Senate approves funding increases for schools
March 27, 2008

LANSING, Mich. – The state Senate approved a $13.4 billion budget for K-12 public schools, which includes per-pupil funding increases ranging from $71 to $142 for each district, according to The Associated Press.

Under the plan, all districts will receive an additional $71 per student in funding, and the schools with foundation allowances of $7,204 will have that additional per-pupil funding doubled. Districts with foundation allowances at or able $8,433 will receive the smallest increase, The Associated Press reported.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm had suggested revising the system in a similar fashion to help close gaps in foundation allowances among districts. The Senate implemented her idea, but reduced the size of the increase due to a fear of less tax revenue, according to The Associated Press.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Associated Press, "Senate approves spending plan for public schools," March 26, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/news-52/1206566346293490.xml&storylist=newsmichigan

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s book, "A Michigan School Money Primer," gives an overview of the state budgeting process for primary and secondary public schools.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "State Budget Process," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8554


Spring Lake board of education may have violated meetings act
March 26, 2008

SPRING LAKE, Mich. – Concern has been raised that the Spring Lake Board of Education may have violated the Open Meetings Act when selecting two final candidates in its superintendent search, according to the Grand Haven Tribune.

Dawn Hertz, general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, said some of the board’s behavior could be considered problematic because it is unclear whether the board deliberated amongst a quorum. The board recently interviewed the final two of six superintendent candidates and recessed after the interviews were completed. During the recess time, board members were seen talking in several different groups. When the board reconvened the meeting, no discussion took place over two motions to advance two candidates to a final interview. The first motion was unanimous; the second vote was 6-1, the Tribune reported.

"What we don't know is if they were simply passing information along, or if they were deliberating," Hertz told the Tribune of the conversations that took place among board members during the hour-long recess. "If they are just polling each other, and never repeated what person A said to person B, or what C said to D, then that's OK. But if one member is having a discussion with each other member and telling them what Cindy Lou thinks or what Joe thinks, then the (Open Meetings) Act kicks in."

The Michigan Open Meetings Act governs any actions by a public governing body when a quorum, or majority of members is present. The act requires the governing body to conduct almost all business in an open meeting. This includes discussions prior to decision making and voting.

"The court says you can't do indirectly what must be done directly in an open meeting," Hertz told the Tribune.

Open Meetings Act violations could result in a lawsuit, if someone thought the decision was caused by improper conduct. Some concern was raised about the decision and the board re-voted at a regular board meeting with the same result, according to the Tribune.

"(The vote was taken) because we had some people concerned about this very thing," Board President Madonna Kramer told the Tribune. "We had sought counsel and they said we're in the right, but we decided just to not make the public feel uncomfortable with the process."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
Grand Haven Tribune, "Spring Lake school board’s candidate selection process questioned," March 25, 2008
http://www.grandhaventribune.com/paid/293370540737197.bsp

FURTHER READING:
The transparency of public bodies through Michigan’s Open Meetings Act is only one way government remains accountable to citizens. Transparency should be encouraged to the greatest extent possible. This is the goal of the Mackinac Center’s school district "checkbook transparency project," which encourages school districts to make detailed spending reports available for taxpayers to inspect.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School District Checkbook Register Report," March 13, 2008
http://www.mackinac.org/9329


Experts argue for private sector involvement in public education
March 24, 2008

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Participants in a forum presented by the Education Policy Initiative at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy discussed the future of education and argued for innovation driven by the private sector, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The panel included Deborah Loewenber Ball, the dean of U of M’s school of education; Sanford Weill, chairman emeritus of Citigroup, Inc.; JD Hoye, President of National Academy Foundation; Frederick Hess, a resident scholar and director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute; and Michael Flanagan, the state superintendent of public instruction, The News reported.

"What we need to do is to reframe (the education system) ... to begin to produce what we think schools should be producing,'' Hoye said, according to The News.

The speakers used this to start arguing that schools need to use the private sector to help push students to the level companies will need them to perform at to be successful. This could mean offering internships where students learn skills directly. Panel members also argued the American education system needs more flexibility and could consider placing individual schools on performance contracts and turn them over to the private sector or a group of teachers, The News reported.

"It makes complete sense that we would take advantage of the expertise in the private sector,'' Ball said, according to The News. "We're struggling with what the right structure should be.''

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Ann Arbor News, " Private sector could aid schools," March 20, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/news/annarbornews/index.ssf?/ base/news-26/1206024029239040.xml&coll=2

FURTHER READING:
The Michigan Education Report article " Corporations donate millions for public school programs," describes how private companies are often willing to donate money for school programs the district wouldn’t otherwise be able to provide. "It's a win-win situation," Tony Rokita, special events coordinator for the Chicago Bulls professional basketball team told The Detroit News, according to Michigan Education Report. "We are providing something the district needs and it's great public relations." The Bulls had donated $3.5 million for an after-school Bulls Scholar enrichment program in the Chicago Public Schools.

Michigan Education Report, "Corporations donate millions for public school programs," Sept. 21, 2001
http://www.educationreport.org/3749


Kelloggsville superintendent looks to reform new graduation requirements
March 21, 2008

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The top official of the Kelloggsville Public Schools has sent a letter to the state superintendent asking for flexibility with the new state graduation requirements, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Kelloggsville Superintendent Samuel Wright argued in the letter to State Superintendent Mike Flannagan that the new requirements are too difficult for many students and are a “one-size-fits-all model” that “may very well lead to higher dropout and failure rates…” The Press reported. Instead, Wright suggests offering separate paths and tests for students heading in different directions after graduation. He suggested that by eighth grade, students would choose a “collegiate career pathway” or a “technical career pathway.” Wright also asked that students in the technical pathway take a different standardized test — ACT Work Keys — than college-bound students, according to The Press.

Legislators are disappointed that educators are already dismissing the rigor of the new requirements and considering them impossible.

"They went into effect with this year's freshmen, and those kids are just over one semester into their high school careers," State Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, told The Press. "Maybe the superintendents should give their students a chance before saying they can't do this. When these kids are juniors and we're still talking about this, that's the time to make changes."

Other districts have taken an active role in reforming the new requirements. Rockford Superintendent Michael Shibler has requested residents send letters to elected officials asking for more flexibility.

"I have no problem whatsoever with rigor," Shibler told The Press. "But we also need to put students in courses that are relevant, and that's not happening when you tell all students they need to take geometry and algebra II."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Grand Rapids Press, "Kelloggsville school chief makes district first to rebel against tougher Michigan graduation requirements," March 20, 2008
http://blog.mlive.com/grpress/2008/03/kelloggsville_school_chief_mak.html

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center Commentary " Hope in State Graduation Standards Misplaced," describes the mandated changes in high school curriculum for this year’s freshmen while commenting that we should be wary of such changes because of the state’s failure to properly implement its only previously existing requirement for graduation, a semester of civics education. The article states that Michigan students would "benefit far more if their parents were able to choose the courses and schools that best suit their needs."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, " Hope in State Graduation Standards Misplaced," Jan. 3, 2006
http://www.mackinac.org/7498


Ann Arbor Schools develop advertising plan
March 20, 2008

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Ann Arbor Public Schools has developed a plan for advertising to parents in hopes of bringing more students into the district, according to The Ann Arbor News.

District officials are convinced they haven’t done a good job of promoting the schools in the past. The aim of this new plan will be to promote the qualities that make the district "exceptional" and stand out compared to other area schools, The News reported.

"We've never done a great job at promoting what we do well in this district," Liz Margolis, the district's director of communications, told The News. "We just can't rest on assumptions any more."

Ann Arbor schools lost 210 students this year, following a trend of declining enrollment due to schools of choice transfers by students assigned to the district. If students don’t enroll in other public school districts, they will usually enroll in one of several private or charter public schools in the area. To counter this, the focus of the advertising plan will be to highlight the district’s safety, diversity, athletics, music and community service, according to The News.

We know we have an excellent product here," advertising committee member Deb Mexicotte told The News. "We're not selling snake oil here. We want to market ourselves as the high achieving school district that we are. We are talking about the exceptional Ann Arbor schools. It's not just that you're going to get a world-class education, you're getting the whole exceptional package.''

The proposed plan may cost more than $70,000 and will involve different forms of local media. The district is also working on improving customer service with all of its employees, The News reported.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Ann Arbor News, "Ad campaign aims to attract students," March 19, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/news/annarbornews/ index.ssf?/base/news-26/120593762992180.xml&coll=2

FURTHER READING:
The Michigan Education Report article "Advertising for students: Schools use radio, TV, billboards to lure ‘customers’," describes a number of the advertising campaigns put on by school districts throughout the state. Although this is a fine example of competition at work, Dan Quisenberry, executive director of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, thinks the emphasis should be on increasing access to information about schools. "We as a society need to get better information to parents," he told Michigan Education Report. "What we have found is that parents want a quality school. They want to know what you are doing and how."

Michigan Education Report, "Advertising for students: Schools use radio, TV, billboards to lure ‘customers’," May 24, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8499


Muskegon Schools develop Spanish-English immersion program
March 19, 2008

MUSKEGON, Mich. – After a lack of interest put plans for the development of an International Academy of Muskegon on hold, the district is planning an elementary Spanish-English immersion program, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

The program will be held at Moon Elementary, which already has bilingual education classrooms for students who speak Spanish as their first language. Students will be taught primarily in Spanish, and the program is considered "two-way" because students will be both native Spanish and English speakers, The Chronicle reported.

The program will be made available to all students in the district, with free transportation. Schools of choice students from outside the district will be able to select the immersion program on their applications. The district is looking to make a long-term investment in the program, and hopes parents will stick with it. A mastery of a foreign language often gives job applicants an edge, according to Linda Wierenga, executive director of elementary education for Muskegon schools.

"When looking for teachers, seeing they have efficiency in Spanish will put them ahead of others, at least in getting an interview for a job," Wierenga told The Chronicle.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Muskegon Chronicle, "Muskegon district plans Spanish-English immersion program," March 19, 2008
http://blog.mlive.com/chronicle/2008/03/ muskegon_district_plans_spanis.html

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center study "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," includes a case study on Dearborn Public Schools, which was able to create a "Theme Schools and Academies Program," to "(g)ive parents what they want so they will not seek it outside the district’s schools." The article concludes that, "school districts that respond to the needs and demands of students and parents will improve and thrive in a competitive environment, depending on the attitude and approach of school leaders."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Dearborn: A Traditional Public School District Accepts the Charter School Challenge," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000
http://www.mackinac.org/2977


Muskegon Schools develop Spanish-English immersion program
March 19, 2008

MUSKEGON, Mich. – After a lack of interest put plans for the development of an International Academy of Muskegon on hold, the district is planning an elementary Spanish-English immersion program, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

The program will be held at Moon Elementary, which already has bilingual education classrooms for students who speak Spanish as their first language. Students will be taught primarily in Spanish, and the program is considered "two-way" because students will be both native Spanish and English speakers, The Chronicle reported.

The program will be made available to all students in the district, with free transportation. Schools of choice students from outside the district will be able to select the immersion program on their applications. The district is looking to make a long-term investment in the program, and hopes parents will stick with it. A mastery of a foreign language often gives job applicants an edge, according to Linda Wierenga, executive director of elementary education for Muskegon schools.

"When looking for teachers, seeing they have efficiency in Spanish will put them ahead of others, at least in getting an interview for a job," Wierenga told The Chronicle.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Muskegon Chronicle, "Muskegon district plans Spanish-English immersion program," March 19, 2008
http://blog.mlive.com/chronicle/2008/03/muskegon_district_plans_spanis.html

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center study "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," includes a case study on Dearborn Public Schools, which was able to create a "Theme Schools and Academies Program," to "(g)ive parents what they want so they will not seek it outside the district’s schools." The article concludes that, "school districts that respond to the needs and demands of students and parents will improve and thrive in a competitive environment, depending on the attitude and approach of school leaders."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Dearborn: A Traditional Public School District Accepts the Charter School Challenge," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts http://www.mackinac.org/2977," July 24, 2000


Michigan Center Schools consider privatizing coaching positions
March 13, 2008

JACKSON, Mich. – The Michigan Center School District will examine the possibility of contracting for coaching positions, according to The Jackson Citizen Patriot.

The board gave approval at its last meeting and Superintendent David Tebo will head the investigation. The neighboring Jackson Community Schools began contracting for coaches this year with savings of approximately $17,240, The Citizen Patriot reported.

"Mr. Tebo will be looking to see if any savings are possible by going that direction. I know Jackson High has privatized coaching, but I understand the savings have been minimal," Board President Gerald Holda said during the meeting, according to The Citizen Patriot.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Jackson Citizen Patriot, "Board to study privatizing school coaches," March 13, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/news/citpat/index.ssf?/ base/news-24/1205417117102180.xml&coll=3

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center study "Survey 2007: More Growth in School Support Service Privatization," found that through June 2007, 40.2 percent of Michigan’s public school districts reported contracting for food, janitorial or busing services — an increase of 7.6 percent since 2006. The study states that, "School districts are looking to save money to balance their budgets, invest more in classrooms and improve non-teaching support services. Competitive contracting for noninstructional services is just one way districts hop to accomplish these goals."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Survey 2007: More Growth in School Support Services Privatization," Aug. 16, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8881


Saginaw Township Schools decide to cap schools of choice program
March 12, 2008

SAGINAW TOWNSHIP, Mich. – The Saginaw Township Board of Education has voted to put limits on its schools of choice program, a move that will cost the district approximately $150,000, according to The Saginaw News.

In response to concerns from community members, the board unanimously voted to deny schools of choice applications for students in grades seven through 12. The district will still be open to out-of-district students in grades K-6. In addition to the loss of funding, the new plan may also separate siblings if parents decide to enroll an elementary or middle school student with children in upper-middle or high school, The News reported.

''Hopefully, (this puts) us where the community wants us,'' board member Barbara Russell told The News.

Superintendent Jerry Seese said the cap was a compromise between a divide in the community; some who opposed schools of choice altogether, and others who find it beneficial. There is no cap on the number of elementary students that can be accepted, as each building principal will be able to determine capacity. The loss of revenue do to the change in policy will be taken from district savings, according to The News.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Saginaw News, "District limits choice pupils," March 11, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/news/saginawnews/ index.ssf?/base/news-25/120524524792260.xml&coll=9

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center study "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," found that charter public schools and cross-district choice programs "are beginning to replace the ‘assignment system’ — whereby children a re assigned to a particular government school based on where they live — with school choice, where parents have the right, freedom, and ability to choose the safest and best school for their children." The effect is much more limited when public schools have more choices than parents do, as under Michigan’s current system.

There are two ways that funding follows students who attend districts other than the ones to which they are assigned. For a full explanation of this way of funding a child who enrolls in a district other than the one to which he has been assigned, see the subsection titled "Nonresident Student Adjustment Under Sections 105 and 105c" in our school finance book, "A Michigan School Money Primer."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Conclusion: Competition Is Improving Public Schools for Michigan Children," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000
http://www.mackinac.org/2979

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Foundation Allowance: General Education" in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8628#nonassign


Huron County teachers win DTE Energy grants
March 7, 2008

BAD AXE, Mich. – The DTE Energy Foundation has awarded eight mini-grants to Huron County teachers to fund projects that help promote and develop an interest in math, science and the environment, according to The Huron Daily Tribune.

Huron County teachers received a total of $3,250 in mini-grants for class projects. A small reception was held for the eight teachers at the Huron County ISD building. Tim Kerry, production manager at the DTE plant in Harbor Beach, attended the event and thanked the winners for helping to guarantee an educated workforce, The Daily Tribune reported.

"We established this (mini-grant) program and the year-old Math Enrichment Grant Program to partner with educators like you to promote math, science, energy and environmental studies that can excite students," Kerry said, according to the Daily Tribune. "Your work in fostering interest and excitement in math and science is essential in ensuring we have the workforce we’ll need in the future."

The Huron ISD received 15 applications for grants, and judges picked those which were creative, innovative, inventive, original and energetic, as well as adhering to the theme of energy and the environment, according to The Daily Tribune.

The DTE Energy Foundation’s mini-grant program was established in 1990, and has awarded more than $750,000 to public and private school teachers within the company’s service area, The Daily Tribune reported.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Huron Daily Tribune, "Huron County Teachers," March 6, 2008
http://www.michigansthumb.com/site/news .cfm?newsid=19366053&BRD=2292&PAG=461&dept_id=476228&rfi=6

FURTHER READING:
The Michigan Education Report article, "Schools take a second look at nonprofit foundations as revenue sources," discusses how school districts are now trying to take advantage of special funding from previously established nonprofit education foundations, by simply asking for money. The article states that the funding is much less than the total budget or state allotment, but that the donors can specify what the district can do with the money. Thus, non-profit funding usually stays inside the classroom. It’s also important to note that the same individuals who vote against increasing state funding of education "are sometimes willing to make a private donation to their local school district because ‘It’s voluntary,’" according to Rich Howard, senior consultant with the McCormick Group. Many companies — DTE Energy is only one example — have also created foundations to explicitly promote the inclusion of certain skills and ideas into K-12 curriculum.

Michigan Education Report, "Schools take a second look at nonprofit foundations as revenue sources," July 24, 2000
http://www.educationreport.org/8829


State implements new graduation rate calculation
March 6, 2008

MUSKEGON, Mich. – Michigan public schools are making plans for the implementation of a new formula to calculate high school graduation rates, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

The new computation is a requirement under the No Child Left Behind Act and is expected to lower most schools’ graduation rates by an average of 10 percent. As opposed to counting the number of high school seniors who graduate, schools will now count the number of freshmen who graduate in four years. Officials agree that this is a better indication of the actual dropout rate and will help better direct schools towards programs that could help, The Chronicle reported.

"I think overall there's a shared belief that this methodology of looking at the long-term will give us a more accurate picture of what's happening in our high schools," Leslee Fritz, spokeswoman for the state's Center for Educational Performance and Information, told The Chronicle. "That will help us design strategies to make sure every student who starts high school finishes high school."

The new calculation was used with last year’s graduating class and the results will be made available this summer, close to or concurrently with school report cards. A school with less than an 80 percent graduation rate will not make Adequate Yearly Progress. Schools that repeatedly fail AYP can receive certain sanctions under the NCLB, but only if the school receives certain funds for having a large percentage of their student body qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. However, other schools will still have to battle public perception of the quality of their schools, according to The Chronicle.

"We are expecting both the statewide rate and the graduation rate for a number of districts will likely go down," Fritz told The Chronicle. "It will appear publicly that schools are headed in the wrong direction."

Many principals are concerned about the effect new graduation requirements will have on the number of students who drop out of high school.

"There's a concern all principals would have that the graduation rate might have a down-spike early on because of these (course) requirements," Reeths-Puffer High School Principal Dan Beckeman told The Chronicle. "The schools are working hard to realign their curriculum to meet the needs of their students. They all come in with different intellectual abilities."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Muskegon Chronicle, "Formula aims to pinpoint dropout rate," March 6, 2008
http://blog.mlive.com/chronicle/2008/03/new_formula_aims_to_pinpoint_d.html

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center commentary, "Graduation Rates an Imperfect Measure of School Excellence" discusses some of the underlying problems with using graduation rates as a measure of educational performance. The authors note that "high school graduation rates have little or nothing to do with educational quality. The reality is that schools could have graduation rates of 100 percent and still have students who can’t add, subtract, read, or write." Progress in improving education doesn’t come strictly from a high graduation rate, but from continuous improvement as a result of a competitive market.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Graduation Rates an Imperfect Measure of School Excellence," Jan. 7, 2002
http://www.mackinac.org/3932


Grosse Pointe school board to vote on adding Chinese classes
March 5, 2008

GROSSE POINTE, Mich. – Grosse Pointe Public Schools is considering following the trend of districts throughout metro Detroit by proposing the addition of Chinese language classes to the curriculum, according to the Detroit Free Press.

If it is approved at a board meeting at the end of March, Mandarin Chinese classes will be available for middle and high school students starting in the fall. The district has been examining the possibility for some time, but after four months of surveys and parent meetings, the feasibility committee decided it would be a worth addition, the Free Press reported.

Chinese is "starting to crop up in a variety of places. And I think in our world's economy, it's a viable language to be offering," Normayne Day, a Grosse Pointe mother who served on the feasibility committee, told the Free Press.

About 140 students have showed interest in taking the course, and have requested it for the fall. If it’s approved, there would probably be two classes at Grosse Pointe South High School, one at Grosse Pointe North High School and one each at two of the district’s middle schools. The district has already received resumes and applications for the teaching position, and state universities are working to produce teachers who are qualified to teach the Chinese courses sprouting up throughout the state, according to the Free Press.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
Detroit Free Press, "Chinese classes just need the OK," March 2, 2008
http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20080302/NEWS02/803020569/1004/news02

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center commentary, "Undereducated Today, Outsourced Tomorrow" discusses the consequences of America’s comparatively poor achievement levels and points to private education programs as the solution. The article notes that many of the countries American companies outsource to have well developed private education programs that "are far better maintained, more academically effective, cheaper to operate and more responsive to the demands of families than the nation’s public schools."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Undereducated Today, Outsourced Tomorrow," Nov. 16, 2004
http://www.mackinac.org/6886


Belding teachers union, district battle over health insurance
Feb. 29, 2008

BELDING, Mich. – Contract negotiations for Belding teachers continue to stall over raises and health insurance contributions, according to the Ionia Sentinel-Standard.

The teachers and school board recently met through a state mediator, but the district’s proposed contract was immediately rejected by the union. The proposal included a 2 percent pay increase for two years and increased co-pays under the Michigan Education Special Services Association to $10/$20 from $5/$10. The district would still continue to pay 100 percent of the MESSA premiums, the Sentinel-Standard reported. MESSA is a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association school employees union that outsources insurance underwriting and then sells the policies to school districts.

"That shift alone would save the district $144,000," Belding Superintendent Charles Barker told the Sentinel-Standard. "The savings in turn would have helped with an increase in (the teachers') pay. It was misrepresented that the drug card would consume everyone's entire pay increase and that's simply not true."

Barker also noted that the contract proposal was better than any of the contract agreements with three other employee groups, including bus drivers, support staff and administrators, according to the Sentinel-Standard.

The Belding union’s bargaining team spokeswoman Lynn Mason said she understands the many issues facing the district, including decreasing enrollment, but says that should not have any bearing on the teachers contract.

"I understand the uncertainties and the various costs of running a district and inflation, but we have to go at it from the viewpoint of staff, people who work closest to the children," Mason, a teacher at Belding Middle School, told the Sentinel-Standard. "The most important resource we believe is our members and their working conditions which ultimately are students' learning conditions."

Negotiations will be stalled until another state mediator is available in April, the Sentinel-Standard reported.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
Ionia Sentinel-Standard, "Budget: Deficit looms for Otsego schools," Feb. 28, 2008
http://www.sentinel-standard.com/articles/2008/ 02/29/news/04news.txt

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s book, "A Collective Bargaining Primer," provides a detailed explanation of and recommendations for school board members bargaining with employee groups for salaries and benefits.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Employee Salaries and Benefits," in "A Collective Bargaining Primer," Feb. 28, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8266


Otsego Schools anticipate $1 million budget deficit
Feb. 28, 2008

OTSEGO, Mich. – The Otsego Public Schools are anticipating a budget deficit of $1 million due largely to a combination of decreasing enrollment and a rise in benefit costs, according to The Plainwell & Otsego Union Enterprise.

Last year, the district had a balanced budget because of an enrollment increase. This year, however, the number enrolling in the district has decreased by 25 students, including 20 who left the district in the last two weeks, Superintendent Denny Patzer told The Union Enterprise. District officials are now including a loss of $100,000 in budget projections to account for the fact that fewer students are enrolling.

The district is also struggling with increases in employee benefit costs, including an increase in retirement contributions and federal income tax. Insurance costs are expected to increase by 10 percent, although Patzer says there is a chance the increase will be less extreme, The Union Enterprise reported. "One (insurance provider) told us that was what it was going to be," Patzer told The Union Enterprise. "But I’m starting to hear that the increase could be half that. Usually at the end of April, MESSA (Michigan Education Special Services Association) will put information out (about what it expects)."

The district is looking at the possibility of reducing staff and cutting programs. The district’s fund balance is currently $4.08 million, or 22 percent of operating expenses. However, the district is expecting to spend $250,000 before the end of the school year.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Plainwell & Otsego Union Enterprise, " Budget: Deficit looms for Otsego schools," Feb. 28, 2008
http://www.allegannews.com/articles/2008/02/28/ue_news/3.txt

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s book, "A Michigan School Money Primer," explains how student enrollment determines a majority of school districts’ state funding. See the sections on pupil counts and the foundation allowance. The book also describes the complex process of school district budgeting.

For a detailed listing of Otsego Public Schools’ increasing revenues, see the state’s fiscal data for Otsego in the most recent years available at "A Michigan School Money Database."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Pupil Counts," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8579

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Foundation Allowance: General Education," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007 http://www.mackinac.org/8580

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School District Budgeting," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8560

Michigan School Money Database, "Otsego Public Schools: Revenues and Expenditures, 2005-2006, 2004-2005
http://www.mackinac.org/depts/ epi/fiscal.aspx?Year1=2005-6&DCode1=03020&Year2=2004-5&DCode2=03020


Student threatens principal with BB gun
Feb. 27, 2008

DETROIT – A 12-year old boy is in custody after allegedly threatening his former elementary school principal with a BB gun, according to WDIV Channel 4 in Detroit.

Authorities say the boy transferred out of Brewer Elementary School due to behavior problems, but returned with a BB gun, cursed at teachers and then threatened the principal. Detroit Public Schools is working with police to determine appropriate disciplinary or legal action, WDIV reported.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
WDIV Channel 4, "Police: 12-Year-Old Threatens Principal with BB Gun," Feb. 25, 2008
http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/15407070/detail.html

FURTHER READING:
A Michigan Education Report commentary, "2007 The three P’s of school safety: parents, prevention, and police," explains that parental involvement, resources to prevent violence and school resource officers are a key combination to help eliminate school violence. Among other things, the article recommends an emphasis on character education in schools, increasing support systems for students who need extra attention and involving parents in school safety programs.

Michigan Education Report, "The three P’s of school safety: parents, prevention, and police," Nov. 1, 2001
http://www.educationreport.org/3134


DPS graduation rate is 32 percent
Feb. 25, 2008

DETROIT – About 32 percent of Detroit Public Schools students graduate in four years, according to The Detroit News.

The results come from a Michigan State University study using methods now required by the federal government. The Michigan Department of Education, which will adopt the MSU model statewide, says the DPS graduation rate is 66.8 percent, The News reported.

"It doesn’t seem credible to me," DPS Board President Carla Scott told The News. "You can make data for anything you want it to say, but (they) should have factored in the reasons why they left."

Scott said students who leave the district before graduation should not be counted as dropouts.

The statewide graduation rate for the four years ending in 2006 was 72.9 percent, The News said, which is lower than the 85.7 percent claimed by the MDE.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Detroit News, "Detroit schools grad rate: 32%," Feb. 25, 2008
http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20080225/SCHOOLS/802250382

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center article, "Legislators: Listen to Detroit Parents," points out that the large drops in enrollment experienced by Detroit Public Schools, poor test scores and graduation rates for the district and long waiting lists for charter public schools in Detroit should be enough reason for the Legislature to allow more charter schools in the city.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Legislators: Listen to Detroit Parents," Feb. 5, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8205


Independent schools advertise for students
Feb. 25, 2008

DETROIT – Private and parochial schools in Michigan have begun to embrace advertising and marketing as a way to attract students and combat dropping enrollment, according to The Detroit News.

Enrollment at independent schools in Michigan has dropped 28 percent in the last decade, while the number of nonpublic schools has decreased from more than 1,000 to about 870, The News reported.

University Liggett School in metro Detroit has increased spending on advertising.

"It’s pretty aggressive," Peggy O’Connor, Liggett’s director of marketing and public relations, told The News. "I can tell you that our (advertising) spending is well into the six figures and that’s a significant increase for us."

O’Connor said that while it is a sacrifice for parents to send their children to an independent school, they also should think about the benefits.

"But our kids end up going to some excellent colleges and universities with scholarships," O’Connor told The News. "So, it helps parents to know they might be paying for school now, but they may not have to later."

The Archdiocese of Detroit, which has seen a 25 percent drop in enrollment the last six years, started an advertising campaign two years ago that includes billboards and radio spots.

Laura Wroblewski, who has one son in Catholic grade school and another son in Catholic high school, said the ads helped her family realize the sacrifices they are making are worth it.

"You need to know there’s always an option," Wroblewski told The News. "Our children are learning compassion and tolerance (at school). They’re learning that there are other people out there and we all need to help each other."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Detroit News, "Private schools make public pitch," Feb. 23, 2008
http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20080223/SCHOOLS/802230386

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center article, "The Opportunities of Education Tax Credits," explains how education tax credits work, the bipartisan support they enjoy in numerous other states and how they can help parents who want to choose a school other than the one to which their children are assigned by ZIP code.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Opportunities of Education Tax Credits ," Nov. 23, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/9128


Michigan schools received recalled beef
Feb. 23, 2008

DETROIT – Several Michigan school districts received beef that is part of the largest food recall ever, according to The Detroit News.

Schools in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids received products from Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. in California, which is the target of a USDA investigation for animal abuse, The News reported.

USDA Undersecretary Kate Houston said much of the beef, shipped since February 2006, has most likely already been consumed by students, and that it is unlikely to cause an illness, according to The News.

Detroit Public Schools found 24 cases of processed taco meat and 126 cases of processed chili meat from the company in its warehouse, Karen Cutler, a spokeswoman for Aramark, told The News. Aramark is a company hired by DPS to manage the district’s lunch program.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Detroit News, "Schools received recalled meat," Feb. 19, 2008
http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20080219/METRO01/802190319/1026

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center article, "Survey 2007: More Growth in School Support Service Privatization," explains that Michigan is a national leader when it comes to the number of school districts that have hired management companies to oversee all or parts of food service programs. Almost 29 percent of Michigan’s 552 conventional public school districts had a food service management company in 2007, compared to about 13 percent nationwide.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Survey 2007: More Growth in School Support Service Privatization ," Aug. 16, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8885


Southfield considers competitive contracting
Feb. 22, 2008

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – Southfield Public Schools has hired consultants from the Oakland County Intermediate School District to examine the possibility of competitively contracting janitorial, food, and busing services, according to the Southfield Eccentric.

Four consultants will work for $50-$100 an hour for a total contract that will not exceed $50,000. This is the first time such an arrangement has been made for contracting, the Eccentric reported.

The district’s support services union has already started a petition drive against competitive contracting and estimates a total of 1,325 signatures. The school board voted 4-0 to approve the agreement and maintains that it is only looking into the option and has not made a decision. The district is expecting a 0.9 percent increase in student spending, but that is negated by a 1 percent increase in the cost of employee retirement benefits. The district projects that it will spend $6 million more than it takes in for 2008-2009, according to the Eccentric.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
Southfield Eccentric, "Southfield schools look for outside help in deciding on privatization," Feb. 21, 2008
http://hometownlife.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20080217/NEWS20/802170378/1037

FURTHER READING:
According to the Mackinac Center’s, "2007 Privatization Survey," through June 2007, 40.2 percent of Michigan’s public school districts reported contracting food, janitorial or busing services — an increase of 7.6 percent since 2006. The study points out that, "school districts are looking to save money to balance their budgets, invest more in classrooms and improve non-teaching support services. Competitive contracting for noninstructional services is just one way districts hope to accomplish these goals."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Survey 2007: More Growth in School Support Service Privatization," Aug. 16, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8881


Highland Park school board member sues colleagues for misusing funds
Feb. 21, 2008

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. – A member of the Highland Park board of education has filed a lawsuit against certain members — including the board president — for using taxpayer money to purchase a variety of electronic goods, according to The Detroit News.

Robert Davis filed a lawsuit asking other board members to pay back about $13,000 to the district for items like home computers, PDAs and printers. He is also seeking the judge to rule that board President Jamille Edwards has violated her oath of office, The News reported.

"Their conduct is too egregious for me to just sit back and let it happen and not bring it to the forefront," Davis said. "It is a clear violation of the person’s oath of office."

The district has faced financial woes and declining enrollment for years. Davis’s suit claims board member Joyce Watkins has spent the most district money for personal electronics, The News reported. Watkins spent a total of $2,764 for a desktop computer, two printers, a wireless card, a sound system, web cam, a laptop computer and a cell phone, according to The News.

Board member Brenda Epperson was shocked by the lawsuit, saying she was given a laptop and case to use for board business.

"When I was elected to the board this equipment was lent to me, not to keep, but to be used for board business," Epperson told The News. "This is for when I travel, and I'm taking classes to become a certified board member. I have my own desktop, I have a fax machine, I have my own cell phone, I have my own stuff. This is what I use for board business."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Detroit News, "Member sues chief, school board," Feb. 20, 2008
http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20080220/METRO/802200391/1026/rss06

FURTHER READING:
The Michigan Privatization Report article, "Education Management Organizations: Managing Competition," explains that charter, private and parochial schools have incentives to maintain professionalism and remain financially accountable. Charter school management companies maximize resources in order to provide the best service for parents and students. Because parents are able to return their children and the state aid that follows them to conventional public schools, "The number of charter schools and EMOs is increasing across the land because they pay attention to profits, that is, to using resources in the most cost-efficient way and providing optimum services at the same time."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Education Management Organizations: Managing Competition," Aug. 13, 1999
http://www.mackinac.org/6844


Schools concerned about number of snow days
Feb. 9, 2008

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Many northern Michigan school districts are concerned about the number of snow days already being used this winter, including some that have reached their allotment, according to SooToday.com.

Clare Public Schools has already used of all of their allocated snow days, and may need to extend the school year or have longer school days if they need to cancel school in the upcoming weeks. Some areas are also seeing cuts in their plow and salt truck fleets, leading to more closures, SooToday.com reported.

Sault Ste. Marie area school districts have only had one snow day this year. In the Algoma school district, transportation has been cancelled once due to weather, but students were still expected to attend. The Huron-Superior Catholic District doesn’t set a number for allotted snow days each year, according to SooToday.com.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
SooToday.com, "Already too many ‘snow days’ in Northern Michigan," Feb. 6, 2008
http://www.sootoday.com/content/news/ full_story.asp?StoryNumber=30054

FURTHER READING:
The Michigan Education Report article, "Winter Weather Wonderland," highlights the unique problems faced by northern Michigan school districts and their techniques for keeping schools running smoothly during the winter months.

Michigan Education Report, "Winter Weather Wonderland," Nov. 21, 2006
http://www.mackinac.org/8025


GVSU charter schools office decides not to reauthorize two schools
Feb. 8, 2008

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Grand Valley State University has decided not to renew contracts with two of its charter public schools after the schools failed to meet the authorizer’s enrollment and achievement standards, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Contracts with Advantage Academy in Kalamazoo and Tri-Valley Academy in Muskegon Heights will expire this summer. Both schools failed to meet standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act in 2005-2006 and received a D on the state report card, The Press reported.

"We strongly believe that charter schools should be accountable for the academic performance of their students," Ed Richardson, GVSU director of charter schools, told The Press. "We think it's critical that our charter schools have their students perform equal to or better than the school districts where their students came from."

GVSU has decided to not renew a charter once before, for Detroit Advantage Academy, which faced similar achievement and enrollment issues. Both Detroit Advantage and Kalamazoo Advantage were managed by Mosaica Education, a national educational management organization that operates 10 schools in Michigan. Tri-Valley Academy is managed by Choice Schools Associates of Grand Rapids. It currently manages nine schools throughout the state, according to The Press.

Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said that this is the part of the chartering process that shows a commitment to accountability.

"It's part of the process. A charter is a contract with performance measures and expectations," Quisenberry, told The Press. "If a school cannot meet the benchmarks, it closes, and it's not happening anywhere else in public education."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
Grand Rapids Press, "GVSU ends ties with two charter schools," Feb. 6, 2008
http://blog.mlive.com/grpress/2008/ 02/gvsu_ends_ties_with_two_charte.html

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center commentary, "Charter Schools Don’t Need More Michigan Department of Education ‘Oversight’," explains that attempts to increase "oversight" of charter schools will only stifle their innovation and creativity. It also notes that, "charter schools already have all the accountability they need. Not only are two-thirds of them managed by professional management companies, each school has a board of directors, which in turn must satisfy its authorizer or the school’s charter may be revoked, thereby closing the school — a level of accountability to which traditional public schools have never come close to being subjected."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Charter Schools Don’t Need More Michigan Department of Education ‘Oversight’," Aug. 12, 2003
http://www.mackinac.org/5670


Genesee ISD's cap on choice traps students in assigned schools
Feb. 7, 2008

FLINT, Mich. – A cap on the Genesee County Intermediate School District’s Schools of Choice program has prevented 421 students from transferring to different schools they chose within the county, according to The Flint Journal.

The GISD limits the number of schools of choice students a district can accept to 1 percent of the district’s total enrollment. This number was agreed upon by district superintendents, The Journal reported.

Andre Bowie has tried for the past two years to enroll his two children in Carman-Ainsworth, but has been denied both times. The district received 189 applications for just over 50 available spots. Carman-Ainsworth Superintendent Billy Haley said his district had room for more applicants, but was hindered by the ISD.

"We'd like to take them all, but we just can't. The ISD won't let us," Haley told The Journal.

Of the 421 students who were unable to transfer schools this year, 57 percent were attempting to transfer out of the Flint Community School District. Flint lost 102 students through Schools of Choice this year. However, it did gain 13 students through the program, according to The Journal.

Bowie has enrolled his children in Grand Blanc Academy, but is still hoping for a chance to transfer them to Carman-Ainsworth.

"When we decided to move them, we were thinking long-term," Bowie told The Journal. "None of the Flint high schools have a high enough grade (from the state)."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

SOURCE:
The Flint Journal, "GISD’s cap keeps students from attending schools of choice," Feb. 6, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/news/flintjournal/index.ssf?/ base/news-48/1202311211311430.xml&coll=5

FURTHER READING:
The Mackinac Center study "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," found that charter public schools and cross-district choice programs "are beginning to replace the ‘assignment system’ — whereby children are assigned to a particular government school based on where they live — with school choice, where parents have the right, freedom, and ability to choose the safest and best school for their children." The potentially positive effects of choice are much more limited when public schools have more choices than parents do, as is the case under Michigan’s current system.

There are two ways that funding follows students who attend districts other than the ones to which they are assigned. Under an ISD-administered cross-district choice program like the one in the Genesee ISD, the district in which a student enrolls receives the foundation allowance that would have been allotted to the assigned district. For a full explanation of this way of funding a child who enrolls in a district other than the one to which he has been assigned, see the subsection titled "Nonresident Student Adjustment Not Under Sections 105 and 105c" in our school finance book, "A Michigan School Money Primer."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Conclusion: Competition Is Improving Public Schools for Michigan Children," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000
http://www.mackinac.org/2962

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Foundation Allowance: General Education" in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007
http://www.mackinac.org/8628#nonassign