PLEASE NOTE: During July and August, Michigan Education Digest is being published every other week. We will resume our weekly publication schedule on Tuesday, Aug. 23. -Ed.



Contents of this issue:

  • St. Martin de Porres' charter school application rejected

  • Three Albion teachers reinstated after mediation

  • Genesee negotiations fuel rainy day fund debate

  • School worker benefits bills divide Michigan House Republicans

  • School employee health care report suggests potential savings

  • State board considers statewide graduation requirements, reforms


ST. MARTIN DE PORRES' CHARTER SCHOOL APPLICATION REJECTED


Detroit — The Detroit Public Schools rejected on Monday a tentative plan to authorize St. Martin de Porres High School, formerly a Roman Catholic school, as one of the district's charter schools, the Detroit Free Press reported. De Porres was closed in June by the Archdiocese of Detroit.

The district had hoped that in authorizing the school, it could limit de Porres' student enrollment to 250 pupils and place restrictions on its ability to accept students currently attending other DPS schools, according to the Free Press. De Porres officials reportedly did not object to the restrictions, but DPS attorneys concluded that the limits would not hold up if challenged in court. The chief executive officer of Detroit Public Schools, William Coleman, said the district did not think it could "create fail-safe methods that would not have a negative impact on DPS enrollment," the Free Press reported.

David Greenwood, a former St. Martin de Porres' school board member, told the Free Press that Detroit Public Schools had allowed the school to obtain a temporary charter school identification number. Greenwood charged the district's CEO with going "back on his word" in rejecting the plan to authorize de Porres as a charter school. The school probably will not open this year, Greenwood said, but it will look for another authorizer.

The Free Press quoted the president of the school's parent club, Sanya Bryant Weston, concerning the difficulty the district's decision has created for her in finding a school for her son: "But I live in Detroit, pay taxes in Detroit. The private schools I'd like are full. ...
What school would I send him to that I would feel 100% confident he would get a good safe education? It's devastating that they would wait this late to do this."

SOURCE:
Detroit Free Press, "District rejects de Porres' request for charter,"
Aug. 2, 2005
http://www.freep.com/news/locway/dps2e_20050802.htm

FURTHER READING:
Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit Catholic school may become charter," July 19, 2005
http://www.educationreport.org/pubs/med/7166


THREE ALBION TEACHERS REINSTATED AFTER MEDIATION

Jackson, Mich. — The Jackson Citizen Patriot reported that the Albion School Board reinstated three teachers whom the board had dismissed from their jobs in 2004. The change occurred after mediation was offered by a federal judge.

The elementary school teachers were originally let go for allegedly being absent from work too often. The Citizen Patriot reported, however, that none of the teachers had used more than the 17 sick or personal days allotted by their contract, and that the superintendent and the school principals had advised that they be allowed to remain.

The agreement is not yet final, but the Michigan Education Association initially asked for $7 million in punitive damages. According to The Citizen Patriot, an MEA representative said he could not discuss the settlement until it was final, but he commented, "Justice is always worth the time and effort it takes, though I am disappointed in the settlement."

One of the teachers will be able to return to work in August, while the other two have been added to a list of six teachers who have been laid off.

SOURCE:
The Jackson Citizen Patriot, "Fired teachers reinstated," July 19, 2005
http://www.mlive.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news-13/ 1121789322271720.xml?jacitpat?NEJ&coll=3


GENESEE NEGOTIATIONS FUEL RAINY DAY FUND DEBATE

Flint, Mich. — A Michigan Education Association representative claimed that many Genesee County public school districts have set aside too much money in their rainy day funds, The Flint Journal reported. Her comments came while 13 of the county's 21 districts were negotiating with the MEA.

MEA negotiator Laura Paige cited state audit figures from school year
2003-2004 (reportedly the latest available), arguing that they indicate nine of the county's 21 districts had rainy day fund amounts that exceeded 17 percent of their operating expenditures. According to The Journal, Paige questioned the need for fund balances of more than 15 percent of operating expenditures and suggested that districts'
financial conservatism was leading to short-term contracts, frequent bargaining sessions and unnecessary efforts to curtail employees'
health insurance and wages.

According to The Journal, Flushing Superintendent Barbara Goebel referred to the criticism as "a common union tactic." Goebel said that in the 1980s, the district was forced to lay off 90 teachers and five administrators, and she told The Journal: "We decided we didn't want to do that again. Once you start using your fund balance, it has a compounding effect." The Journal also quoted Michigan Association of School Boards Legislative Affairs Director Don Wertuba, who said a rainy day fund of 15 percent is "a minimum," adding, "Much lower than that and districts will need to borrow money for cash flow purposes."

SOURCE:
The Flint Journal, "Schools saving too much — union," July 23, 2005
http://www.mlive.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news-30/ 1122121220238000.xml?fljournal?NEF&coll=5

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Budgets: A Crisis of Management, Not Finance," February 2005 http://www.mackinac.org/6980


SCHOOL WORKER BENEFITS BILLS DIVIDE MICHIGAN HOUSE REPUBLICANS

Lansing, Mich. — Bills affecting public school employee health care and retirement benefits were on the Michigan House's agenda as the House neared the end of its spring session in June, but they were not acted on due to disagreement among Republican state representatives, according to Gongwer News Service.

Gongwer reported that House Bill 4947 sets up a 401(k)-type defined contribution system for new public school employees, replacing the defined benefit system used by current employees. Gongwer described House Bill 4274 as stipulating that the Michigan Education Special Services Association, a major health insurance benefits administrator, "provide districts with access to their claims history," so that the districts would find it easier to shop around for the most affordable health insurance provider. MichiganVotes.org described House Bill 4274 a bit differently, stating it required MESSA "to disclose to school districts a summary of health care services that were actually used by the teachers for whom it administers health insurance."

Democratic representatives reportedly are firmly opposed to the bills.
As many as 10 Republican representatives may oppose the bills as well, Gongwer estimated. With a total of 58 House Republicans and 52 House Democrats, the bills would not pass if the vote estimates were correct.

Rep. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, opposes the legislation, telling Gongwer that teachers had "bargained fair and square" for their current medical and retirement benefits. He added: "There's just a very sharp disagreement here. I don't see anybody altering their views." But Rep. Brian Palmer, R-Romeo, argued that the bills would pass, saying, "If not, we're going to be talking about significant layoffs of teachers."

The Michigan Education Association opposes the bills. Gongwer described MEA lobbyist Al Short as being "cautious" in describing the bills'
future and quoted him as saying, "We're very thorough on (legislative monitoring), and we talk to a lot of people, so we know where we think they're going to go."

SOURCES:
Gongwer News Service, "House G.O.P. Split on Teacher Benefits Bills,"
July 26, 2005
http://www.gongwer.com/programming/ news_articledisplay.cfm?article_ID=441430101&newsedition_id=4414301&lo cid=1&link=news_articledisplay.cfm?article_ID=441430101%26newsedition_ id=4414301%26locid=1 (Link requires
subscription)

MichiganVotes.org, "2005 House Bill 4947 (401k-type pension for new school employees)"
http://www.michiganvotes.org/2005-HB-4947

MichiganVotes.org, "2005 House Bill 4274 (Require MESSA disclosures)"
http://www.michiganvotes.org/2005-HB-4274


SCHOOL EMPLOYEE HEALTH CARE REPORT SUGGESTS POTENTIAL SAVINGS

Lansing, Mich. — A report commissioned by the state Legislature's Michigan Legislative Council and conducted by the Virginia-based Hay Group determined that a proposal to create a state-run health insurance pool for public school employees could save as much as $422 million per year by 2009-2010, according to Gongwer News Service.

The Hay Group described three suggestions that it says could save the state anywhere from $146 million to $281 million next year. Those options included keeping current benefits, but putting them under a statewide administrator (the current state school employee retirement system, per the Hay Group's recommendation); creating a fixed number of benefit-plan choices for school districts; and replacing fee-for- service plans with preferred provider organization benefits. According to Gongwer, Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, called the possible savings "astounding" and indicated that the proposal's opponents would need to find an alternative that provided similar savings.

The conclusions of the Hay report were criticized by Cynthia Irwin, executive director of the Michigan Education Special Services Association, which currently administers health insurance benefits for
53 percent of Michigan's school-related employees, according to MIRS.
She said, "The savings are overstated, the costs are understated and school employees will lose the right to bargain some of their benefits," Gongwer reported. Gongwer also reported that a MESSA analysis found that creating a state administrator for school employee health insurance plans would cost not $3 million, as the Hay Group had projected, but as much as $500 million, due to the need to establish reserves for the system.

The Senate is currently considering bills that would establish a statewide insurance pool for school employees. It will be debating issues related to the report in future hearings.

SOURCES:
Gongwer News Service, "G.O.P. Focuses on Savings in School Health Care Report," July 26, 2005
http://www.gongwer.com/programming/ news_articledisplay.cfm?article_ID=441430102&newsedition_id=4414301&lo cid=1&link=news_articledisplay.cfm?article_ID=441430102%26newsedition_ id=4414301%26locid=1 (Link requires
subscription)

MIRS News, "Partisan Divide Forming On Hay Report," July 26, 2005
http://www.mirsnews.com/capsule.php?gid=293#4607 (Link requires
subscription)

The Hay Group, "Report on the Feasibility and Cost-Effectiveness of a Consolidated Statewide Health Benefits System for Michigan Public School Employees," July 13, 2005 http://council.legislature.mi.gov

MichiganVotes.Org, "2005 Senate Bill 55 (Move teachers to state health insurance)"
http://www.michiganvotes.org/2005-SB-55

MichiganVotes.Org, "2005 Senate Bill 56 (Move teachers to state health insurance)"
http://www.michiganvotes.org/2005-SB-56


STATE BOARD CONSIDERS STATEWIDE GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS, REFORMS

Lansing, Mich. — In a special meeting last week, the Michigan Board of Education discussed high school reforms, including statewide graduation requirements.

Booth Newspapers reported that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan is concerned about Michigan's estimated 73 percent high school graduation rate and a perceived failure on the part of the state's high schools to produce graduates who are prepared for college work. Gov. Jennifer Granholm's office reportedly supports statewide graduation requirements.

Booth noted that a state-mandated curriculum was passed by the state Legislature in 1993, but the legislation was repealed in 1995 before the requirements took effect. Describing the response to that legislation, State Board of Education President Kathleen Straus, D- Bloomfield Township, said, "The local school districts just really rose up in arms," according to Booth.

The state is to receive a National Governor's Association grant in support of the reforms, according to the Detroit Free Press. The grant, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, could be worth up to $1.8 million over two years.

Graduation requirements and other possible high school reforms, such as smaller high schools, will be on the state board's Aug. 9 agenda.

SOURCES:
Booth Newspapers, "Board considers statewide curriculum," July 29, 2005
http://www.mlive.com/news/statewide/index.ssf?/base/news-6/ 1122631811191500.xml&coll=1

Detroit Free Press, "High school reform discussed by education leaders," July 28, 2005 http://www.freep.com/news/statewire/sw119068_20050728.htm

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Nationalized Curriculum and Testing," July 2002
http://www.mackinac.org/4453



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

Contact Managing Editor Ryan Olson at med@educationreport.org

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