MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST June 29, 2010

Pension suit, Chinese class, wary budgeting


Contents of this issue:


  • Judge puts new school health fund on reserve
  • Farwell adopts Chinese language program
  • State eyes alternative to MEAP tests
  • Some boards wary of no-cuts promise
  • South Lyon ties wages to per-pupil funding


JUDGE PUTS NEW SCHOOL HEALTH FUND ON RESERVE


LANSING, Mich. - The state can collect money from school employees for retiree health care, but can't spend it until a lawsuit over the new system is resolved, Ingham County Circuit Judge James Giddings ruled Thursday, according to The Detroit News.

The new system deducts 3 percent of employees' wages for a retiree health care fund; it is expected to generate about $300 million annually, The News reported. Giddings said that the state would not be harmed if the money is reserved until a case brought by the Michigan Education Association is decided, according to The News.

The MEA lawsuit charges that the new law violates the state's contract with school employees and is unconstitutional, The News reported.

Giddings will decide the case after reviewing motions and hearing oral arguments, according to The News.

SOURCE:
The Detroit News, "Judge: Michigan can't tap school pension contributions until suit is resolved," June 28, 2010

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Gutted school pension 'reform' could come back to bite schools," June 28, 2010


FARWELL ADOPTS CHINESE LANGUAGE PROGRAM


FARWELL, Mich. - Farwell Area Schools will use part of its Project ReImagine grant to begin Chinese language classes in kindergarten and possibly in preschool, according to The Clare Sentinel.

The district's long-term plans include Chinese and Spanish immersion programs beginning at the elementary level, The Sentinel reported. About $22,000 of a $50,000 grant the district received as a Project ReImagine participant will go toward the Chinese immersion effort, according to The Sentinel.

Project ReImagine districts were selected by the Michigan Department of Education in November 2009 to implement innovative school reform programs that boost student achievement.

In related news, 20 district employees are retiring or leaving the district, The Sentinel reported. The district does not plan to replace all 20, which will bring down labor costs and help balance the budget in 2010-2011, according to The Sentinel.

SOURCE:
The Clare Sentinel, "Farwell Area Schools District ends 2009-2010 school year with positive fund balance," June 26, 2010

FURTHER READING:
Michigan Education Report, "State to Schools: Think outside the classroom," Oct. 2, 2009


STATE EYES ALTERNATIVE TO MEAP TESTS


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Michigan has joined a group of 31 states jointly developing a new approach to standardized tests, according to Education Week. This would eventually move the state away from the familiar Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests in favor of evaluating students on academic tasks throughout the year as well as an end-of-year computerized assessment.

The group, named the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, is one of two consortia that applied to the U.S. Department of Education last week to win up to $320 million to produce the new assessment system, Education Week reported. A third group applied for a grant specific to high school testing.

The goal is to create a way to test students that is comparable across states and that matches the new national academic standards Michigan and other states have adopted, according to the report. Tests must be in place by 2014.

The SMARTER system would assess students each year on two computer-based "performance tasks" in English and math, Education Week reported.

The end-of-year test would be "computer adaptive," meaning students would work individually at progressively harder problems until reaching the limit of their ability.

SOURCE:
Education Week, "Three Groups Apply for Race to the Top Test Grants," June 23, 2010 (Subscription required)

FURTHER READING:
Michigan Education Report, "Michigan Adopts National Standards," June 22, 2010


SOME BOARDS WARY OF NO-CUTS PROMISE


FENTON, Mich. - At least two Michigan public school districts aren't counting on current predictions that per-pupil funding will not be cut in 2010-2011, according to media reports.

Fenton Area Public Schools adopted a budget that assumes the state will reduce funding by $125 per pupil, while the Kalamazoo Public Schools plans on a $100 per-student cut, according to reports in The Flint Journal and The Kalamazoo Gazette, respectively.

Last month some state lawmakers said that per-pupil funding next year likely would remain the same as in 2009-2010 due to an unexpected increase in state tax revenue, but Kalamazoo Deputy Superintendent Gary Start told The Gazette that the district prefers to use conservative estimates.

The state promised the same thing the previous year, he told The Gazette, but later cut state aid by $165 per student.

Even though it expects less money per student, Kalamazoo adopted a budget with no program or staffing reductions, The Gazette reported. The district anticipates an influx of 379 students, which would offset the per-student losses.

In Fenton, the district has eliminated six non-educator positions, implemented a 3 percent administrative pay cut, reduced staff hours and negotiated higher insurance contributions in order to bring spending down by $1.7 million next year, according to The Journal.

SOURCES:
The Kalamazoo Gazette, "Kalamazoo Public Schools avoid cuts in 2010-11 and expects to add a few teachers," June 24, 2010

The Flint Journal, "Fenton school board approves 2010-11 budget, cuts $1.7 million," June 24, 2010

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Unstable Funding Myth," June 24, 2010


SOUTH LYON TIES WAGES TO PER-PUPIL FUNDING


SOUTH LYON, Mich. - Support staff employees have agreed to a 10 percent pay scale reduction in South Lyon Community Schools as of July 1, as well as a monthly medical benefit cap, according to a report at www.hometownlife.com.

The new four-year contract between the district and Teamsters Local 214 calls for adjusting wages in future years by 62.5 percent of any change in the Michigan per-pupil foundation allowance, the report said.

The school board approved the contract in a unanimous vote, and Assistant Superintendent Melissa Baker said the district no longer plans to seek bids from private companies to provide support services, Hometownlife reported.

The contract covers custodial, maintenance, grounds, food service and drivers, according to Hometownlife. They formerly were represented by the Michigan Education Association, but voted in March to switch representation to the Teamsters, according to Hometownlife.

SOURCE:
Hometownlife.com, "District, Teamsters reach agreement," June 24, 2010

FURTHER READING:
Michigan Education Report, "Splitting the health insurance bill," Aug. 19, 2009


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

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at med@educationreport.org

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