Contents of this issue:
  • State deadline for Detroit deficit plans may be postponed

  • Detroit teachers union criticizes district for Christmas Eve layoffs

  • Many Colorado charter schools earn top ratings on state test

  • Alpena considers collecting school taxes in money-saving effort

  • ISD officials criticize recent legislation at press conference

  • Upper Peninsula district consolidation produces financial solvency

DETROIT — State officials told The Detroit News that they may grant Detroit public school officials an extension of the state deadline for submitting a plan to address the school district's accumulated $200 million deficit.

Detroit Public Schools CEO Kenneth Burnley has been asked to provide the Michigan Department of Education with two- and five-year plans for relieving the district's deficit. The plans were due last Friday, but a state Department of Education spokeswoman suggested the deadline might be pushed back pending the selection of a committee of community members being convened to assist with budget decisions in the Detroit district. Elizabeth Boyd, spokeswoman for Gov. Jennifer Granholm, told The News that the governor is still assembling the committee.

The News reported that the Detroit Public Schools will run out of funds in April if the district does not eliminate its deficit. "I don't think we can languish too long," N. Charles Anderson, CEO and president of the Detroit Urban League, told The News. "The clock is still ticking."

Detroit News, "School budget plan may get delay," Dec. 29, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Dancing Around Education: A 170-Year Waltz With Reform," December 11, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Ironic Choices," November 29, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" Aug. 30, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002

DETROIT — The Detroit News reported that the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers criticized the Detroit Public Schools at a news conference last week for the district's decision to lay off 374 teachers to help relieve the district's current-year $150 million deficit. The layoffs drew particular ire because the notices were distributed on Christmas Eve.

"This action demonstrates a blatant disregard for the union and the members we represent," DFT President Janna Garrison said, according to The News. "We don't believe there have to be layoffs," she added, suggesting instead a retirement-incentive program for older teachers that would allow new teachers to replace them, presumably at lower salaries. According to The News, the district already has cut $76 million from its budget through school closings, spending reductions and 2,100 layoffs.

District spokesman Kenneth Coleman defended the district's action, telling The News, "I wouldn't agree with the characterization that this came out of the blue." He also told The News that the layoffs might be reduced if enough teachers avail themselves of the retirement options referred to by Garrison. Both the layoffs and the incentive program are scheduled to take effect in February.

Detroit News, "Union critical of school cuts," Dec. 28, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Playing Monopoly With Detroit's Kids," July 15, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" Aug. 30, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002

DENVER — A Denver Post analysis found that a higher percentage of Colorado charter schools than of traditional public schools earned the state's highest ratings on a state standardized test this year.

According to the analysis, 46 percent of Colorado charter schools earned an "excellent" or "high" rating this year on the state's School Accountability Report, compared to 39.6 percent of traditional public schools. A higher percentage of traditional school students scored "average" than in charter schools, while there was little difference between the two types of schools in the proportion of students who scored in the "low" and "unsatisfactory" categories, the Post reported.

The Post observed that charter students in Colorado appear to serve fewer low-income students and racial and ethnic minorities than Colorado's traditional public schools do, which may help explain the higher test scores. Charter school advocates argue that the state's charter schools enroll just as many low-income students as traditional public schools, but that many of the charter schools do not provide lunch, thus reducing the number of their students who receive "free or reduced-price lunch," a standard measure of low-income status.

Nina Rees, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the federal Department of Education, said it is difficult to compare charters to traditional schools using test scores alone. "It's not like comparing McDonald's to Burger King," she told the Post. "They're all so different."

Denver Post, "State's charter schools buck trend," Dec. 22, 2004,1413,36~53~2612129,00.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "When Will Conventional Public Schools Be as Accountable as Charters?" July 7, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Stop Beating Up on Charter Schools," December 2, 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 2000

ALPENA, Mich. — The Alpena News reported that Alpena Public Schools Superintendent David Werner has asked the Alpena Municipal Council to consider collecting school taxes for the district. The superintendent reportedly hopes that the city will be able to do the job for less money than the county, which currently charges about $23,000 to collect the district's taxes.

"In conversation with the county folks, they assured us that there wasn't really a significant amount of additional work that would be required to levy the taxes, in the sense that you (the city) already send out a tax bill and you already collect taxes," Werner said, according to The News.

The municipal council declined to collect the school tax in 2005, but said it would consider doing so in 2006. The Alpena city clerk plans to study the cost to the city of the school district's proposal.

Alpena News, "City considering collecting school taxes," Dec. 23, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — According to Advance Newspapers, officials from two Michigan intermediate school districts publicly criticized legislation that would force them to discontinue a practice they have employed to bring in greater state funding for special education. The legislation has been passed by the state Legislature and is currently awaiting the signature of Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

At a December press conference, Kent Intermediate School District Superintendent Michael Weiler defended so-called "dual employment," a system by which special education employees are reported on the payroll of both the ISD and the school district in which they work. The new legislation would prohibit ISDs from continuing the practice.

"With this legislation, some ISDs can be funded and some can't. It's a question of fairness and equity," said Weiler, according to Advance Newspapers. Weiler argued that smaller intermediate school districts are able to receive full reimbursement for special education by simply rotating their staff among their component school districts, something that larger ISDs do not do. Brian O'Connell, spokesman for the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Shirley Johnson, said that ISDs have used dual employment to receive more special education funding without providing extra services. "The only thing that is different is an accounting change," said O'Connell, Advance Newspapers reported.

Halting the dual-employment practice would reportedly cost the Kent ISD $10 million and the Ottawa ISD $2.55 million in reduced state funding.

Advance Newspapers, "School officials say legislation targets area students," Dec. 21, 2004 news-1/110365901178190.xml

Michiganvotes.Org, Senate Bill 1193

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's Budget Challenge"

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Eliminate Intermediate School Districts," August 21, 2003

Michigan Education Report, "What Are Intermediate School Districts?" Winter 2000

Michigan Education Report, "Group files complaints against districts," Spring 2000

IRONWOOD, Mich. — The Ironwood Daily Globe reported yesterday on the financial solvency of a new, consolidated school district in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The district was created when voters in two small Upper Michigan school districts, Wakefield and Marenisco, chose last June to consolidate their two districts into one.

The vote followed the Marenisco district's announcement last January that it would be unable to operate past the 2003-2004 school year. Marenisco officials considered annexation offers from two other school districts, but preferred a consolidation with Wakefield schools, since the two districts already shared programs and staff.

The subsequent Wakefield-Marenisco merger eliminated Wakefield's budget deficit by increasing enrollment in the district. Most employees of the two original districts were hired by the new district, although some teachers reportedly disliked being employed on probationary status by the district. One-year contracts offered by the consolidated district included limits on the district's payment of health insurance premiums. Contract negotiations are still underway between the district and its unions, according to the Daily Globe.

The Wakefield-Marenisco merger was the first school district consolidation in Michigan since 1987, according to the Daily Globe.

Ironwood Daily Globe, "Tiny school districts unite," Jan. 3, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Districts: Is Less More?" July 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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