Contents of this issue:


  • Online high school will expand
  • West Bloomfield teachers sue over pay cuts
  • Eau Claire considers self-funded insurance
  • NEA chiefs propose teacher evaluation changes
  • Farmington chooses concessions over outsourcing


Online High School Will Expand


JACKSON, Mich. — The Jackson Learning Lab online high school hopes to triple enrollment to 100 students by fall, now that it has state permission to expand, according to The Jackson Citizen Patriot.

The Michigan Department of Education recently designated the school an “innovative program” and wants to track student achievement there, according to The Citizen Patriot. The Lab currently enrolls 30 seventh- through twelfth-graders. Students can work offsite or at the school in downtown Jackson.

The school is under the oversight of Suttons Bay Public Schools near Traverse City, according to The Citizen Patriot. The Lab receives $7,000 per student in state aid, the same amount that Suttons Bay receives, the report said.

School founder Roxana Hopkins told The Citizen Patriot that the program fits in with Gov. Rick Snyder’s education reform plan, which encourages online education. Hopkins is a retired Jackson Public Schools administrator.

SOURCE:
The Jackson Citizen Patriot, “Online high school named 'innovative program' by state, plans to expand to 100 students as Gov. Rick Snyder promotes virtual learning,” May 10, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Michigan Education Report, “Jackson Learning Lab: The hope of success for all learners,” August 4, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “A Virtual Learning Revolution,” March 7, 2011


West Bloomfield Teachers Sue over Pay Cuts


WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. — The West Bloomfield School District teachers union is suing the district over recent 10 percent pay cuts, according to the WestBloomfieldPatch.

The West Bloomfield Education Association claims that the district violated the Michigan and U.S. constitutions when it imposed a new contract in March, the Patch reported. It wants Oakland County Circuit Court to require the district to maintain previous wages until the Michigan Employment Relations Commission rules on a charge of unfair labor practice, according to the Patch.

The board voted to implement the contract on March 31 after 18 months of failed negotiations, according to the Patch.

The union claims that the district began to implement the pay cut before the board voted, by preparing payroll checks in advance that reflected the lower wages, the Patch reported. The district said that given the volume of payroll, it needed to plan in advance for the possible board action.

MERC will hear the case on July 7, according to the Patch. The district refused to comment on the lawsuit, the Patch reported.

In earlier reports, the Patch reported that the union offered what it said amounted to $3.7 million in spending reductions, while a board member said that the union’s offer reflected only “one-time” savings.

SOURCES:
WestBloomfieldPatch, “Teachers Union Sues West Bloomfield School District,” May 9, 2011

WestBloomfieldPatch, “West Bloomfield School Board Imposes Contract, 10% Pay Cut as Angry Teachers Protest,” March 31, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Teachers Picket as one of Michigan’s Wealthiest School Districts Faces Big Deficit,” Oct. 13, 2010


Eau Claire Considers Self-Funded Insurance


EAU CLAIRE, Mich. — Eau Claire Public Schools is considering moving to self-funded health insurance, a switch that could save up to $200,000 next year, according to The (St. Joseph) Herald-Palladium.

The district currently purchases insurance through the Michigan Education Special Services Association, a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association, according to The Herald-Palladium. The plan is popular with employees, and the district’s intent is to replicate the existing coverage through a self-funded plan, The Herald-Palladium reported.

Superintendent Mark Costello told The Herald-Palladium that district staff has been part of the insurance discussions. He estimated as much as $200,000 in savings based on a potential 10 percent MESSA rate hike, according to The Herald-Palladium.

"Our district is going to be short of money next year and we have to figure out how to cut costs without cutting staff," Costello said, according to The Herald-Palladium.

SOURCE:
The (St. Joseph) Herald-Palladium, “EC schools explore dumping MESSA insurance,” May 11, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Michigan spends more on teacher benefits than most other states,” Jan. 4, 2011


NEA Chiefs Propose Teacher Evaluation Changes


WASHINGTON, D.C. ? National Education Association delegates will decide in July whether to put the union stamp of approval on the much-debated use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, according to Education Week.

Union leaders have drafted a policy statement that supports the use of “valid, reliable, high-quality standardized tests,” in combination with other measures, to gauge teacher performance, Education Week reported, but it will be up to delegates from across the country to approve, modify or reject it at the union’s national assembly.

“Members want NEA to speak up and lead in this discussion,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told Education Week.

State and local NEA affiliates are not bound by national policy statements, according to Education Week.

Julia Koppich, a San Francisco-based consultant, told Education Week that the announcement shows willingness by the union to discuss reform, but that statement itself includes a number of disappointing caveats.

The proposed policy says that, in addition to test scores, teacher evaluations should include lesson plans, classroom observations, teacher-created assessments, teacher professional development and other factors, Education Week reported. Van Roekel said that current standardized tests are not designed to measure teacher effectiveness and that alternatives must be crafted.

SOURCE:
Education Week, “NEA Leaders Propose Teacher-Evaluation Shift,” May 11, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “A Meritorious Idea: Oscoda Schools Pioneers Teacher Evaluation Program


Farmington Chooses Concessions over Outsourcing


FARMINGTON, Mich. — Farmington Public Schools trustees voted 5-2 to accept concessionary contracts from unionized support staff rather than outsource non-instructional services, according to the (Farmington) Observer & Eccentric.

The contracts, which union members were to vote on by today, would reduce spending by an estimated $2.3 million in each of the next three years, while privatizing custodial and transportation services would save up to $4 million annually, the Observer & Eccentric reported.

District officials said that decreased revenue and “soaring health and retirement costs” required them to look for cost savings, according to the report.

The proposed concessions include wage decreases, higher employee contributions to health benefit costs, custodial workday adjustments and changes in vacation, overtime and sick day accrual, among others, according to the Observer & Eccentric.

Board member Priscilla Brouillette, who voted against accepting the contracts, cited the increasing cost of public employee pensions as the reason for her vote, the Observer & Eccentric reported.

SOURCE:
(Farmington) Observer & Eccentric, “Farmington Public Schools won’t outsource busing, custodial,” May 12, 2011

FURTHER READING:
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Michigan Schools Contract Out More Than Ever,” Sept. 10, 2010


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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