Contents of this issue:
  • Gov. Granholm calls Watkins "ineffective," asks for resignation

  • Grand Rapids superintendent announces funding study

  • Detroit administrators propose closing more than 100 schools

  • Michigan scholarship grant to be unchanged under new state test

  • Many school districts opt for board elections in May, not November

  • Berrien ISD ponders privatization of special ed transportation

DETROIT — In a Detroit Free Press interview last week, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm called on State Superintendent Tom Watkins to resign his post.

Gov. Granholm told the Free Press that through her education advisor, she asked Watkins to resign in early January. The request was a direct contrast to her public statement about two weeks ago that Watkins was a "valued member" of her cabinet.

"He needs to resign for the good of the state board, for the good of public education," Granholm told the Free Press. "The simple reason is he is not providing effective leadership in one of the most critical departments in state government."

Media reports have suggested that friction between the governor and the superintendent arose from a report Watkins submitted to the state in December calling for major overhauls in district and state administration. Granholm's education adviser told the Free Press this was not the case.

In her Free Press interview, Granholm asserted that Watkins agreed last May to resign at the end of 2004, but did not follow through. Though the state Board of Education has sole authority to hire and fire Watkins, the Free Press noted that Granholm can influence the board's decisions. The board last week tabled Watkins' contract extension.

Watkins told the Free Press he would not step down. He cited improvements in academic standards under his three-year administration, and he pointed to a recent, positive evaluation of his job performance by the state board.

Detroit Free Press, "Schools chief asked to resign," Jan. 19, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Lansing Must Embrace Basic Reform Following the Watkins Debacle," January 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Watkins Gets It Right," January 2005

Michigan Education Report, "State superintendent launches plan to grade schools," Winter 2002

Michigan Education Report, "State Board of Education adopts school grading plan," Spring 2002

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids Superintendent Bert Bleke last week announced the formation of a committee to review possible solutions to a projected $18 million budget deficit next year, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

Bleke said possible solutions to the problem "will cause quite a stir." The Press noted that Bleke "would not rule out bankruptcy, shortening the school year, closing schools or massive layoffs." Seeking a countywide tax increase for schools will not be considered, however.

The Press reported that the projected deficit stems from a number of issues, including health-care costs, retirement costs and the loss of 800 students, many of them to suburban districts. Bleke also complained that other Michigan districts receive more state money per student than Grand Rapids does, and he told The Press, "This is a problem that must be addressed at the state level...."

The Grand Rapids Press, "Bleke says budget fix may cause 'a stir,'" Jan. 19, 2005

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

Michigan Privatization Report, "Privatization Survey Shows Outsourcing is a Popular Management Tool," Winter 2004

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "'Proposal A,' 10 Years Later," February 2004

DETROIT — A plan released by the Detroit Public Schools last Wednesday suggests the district will close 110 schools and reduce spending by $380 million, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Free Press reported that district officials predict a student population of just 100,000 in 2008, down from a current enrollment of roughly 140,000. To address the school district's debt and the anticipated student decline, the district's plan calls for the closing of 110 schools over the next three to five years, leaving just 142 schools operating.

Janna Garrison, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, told the Free Press: "I believe they're in what they call the scrap-and-burn mode. All this is just not necessary." Mike Griffith, a policy analyst for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, suggested the Detroit district should consider dividing itself into smaller districts or creating more district-run charter schools.

The Free Press also reported speculation late last week that Detroit Schools Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Burnley may leave his post at the end of his contract, which expires June 30. A board meeting is planned for today to discuss Burnley's future with the district.

Detroit Free Press, "Detroit district: 110 schools must close," Jan. 21, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The $200 Million Question," January 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Fewer Students = More Money?" October 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Choice in Michigan: A Primer for Freedom in Education: Lack of Incentives Produces Poor Results and Exacerbates Problems," July 1999

CADILLAC, Mich. — A state official told the Cadillac News that the Michigan Merit Award, a state-sponsored scholarship given to high school students for good performance on a state high school exam, will still be available to students, even though the state exam will be changed in just two years.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm earlier this month approved a new standardized state test for high school students to be used starting in the 2006-2007 school year. The new test will be known as the Michigan Merit Exam, and it will replace the 11th-grade test currently administered under the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

Under the new test, the News reported, the Michigan Merit Award will still be available to students who perform at or above an established minimum standard. Michigan Department of Treasury Spokesman Terry Stanton told the News: "We are not expecting any (changes) at this point. Some sort of cut score will have to be determined as it (the Michigan Merit Exam) is produced and developed." The Michigan Merit Award was established in 1999 by the state Legislature. The award currently gives students who score well on the high school MEAP tests a grant of up to $2,500. According to the News, about 49,000 high school graduates receive the award every year.

Still, "At any point in the future it (the award) could be eliminated, changed or cut in half," Stanton told the News. "It is an annual appropriation. It is not guaranteed to go on in perpetuity."

Cadillac News, "Changes in MEAP test bring no changes for scholarship," Jan. 24, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "College bound students receive new state scholarships," Fall 2000

Michigan Education Report, "Markets, not MEAP, best way to measure school quality," Spring 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "POLICY BRIEF: Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" May 2002, 2004 Senate Bills 1153, 1154, 1155, 1156, 1157

LANSING, Mich. — Booth Newspapers reported that a recent survey by the Michigan Association of School Boards suggested that most Michigan school districts have chosen under a new "election consolidation" law to hold district elections in May, instead of November.

A package of bills signed into law last year by Gov. Jennifer Granholm helped consolidate elections statewide by requiring districts to hold their elections in November or May of odd-numbered years, Booth reported. "The main reason we wanted it (consolidated elections) was to lessen voter confusion and to raise turnout," Kent County Clerk Mary Hollinrake told Booth.

Of 313 districts that responded to the MASB survey, 299 chose to hold elections in May. Chris Thomas, director of the Michigan Bureau of Elections, told Booth that school districts would save money by holding elections in November, which is when state and municipal elections are held. "Those (districts) that have not taken advantage of that, I would say, made a clear, conscious decision to eat those costs," he said.

School officials cited by Booth, however, said that a November election would force school board members to be seated half-way through the school year. In addition, Flushing Superintendent Barbara Goebel told Booth, "You start putting that (school board elections) on the November election, that starts making it partisan."

Booth Newspapers, "Most districts bypass chance to save on school elections," Jan. 21, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Consolidate School Elections with General Elections," June 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Is there a case for election consolidation across the state or should such matters be decided at the local level?" June 2002, House Bills 4820-4828, Senate Bill 877

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. — The Berrien County Intermediate School District is soliciting bids from transportation companies to gauge whether competitive contracting of special education bus services would save the district money, according to The St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Herald-Palladium.

Currently, the Berrien ISD provides transportation for 200 special education students to its Blossomland Learning Center at a cost of $2.3 million annually, according to The Herald-Palladium. At the same time, the district contracts with Berrien Springs-based Careful Transit to bus 75 students to its Lighthouse Education Center for $700,000 per year. Jim Palm, assistant superintendent for the district's administrative services, told The Herald-Palladium, "We've had a good experience with privatization (at the Lighthouse school and its predecessor) for 20 years."

Although Palm was unsure about the potential cost-savings from privatization, he said, "We feel we would be negligent if we didn't check to see what kind of savings might be available."

Critics of the plan include Mike Schroeder of the Michigan Education Association. Schroeder told The Herald-Palladium, "The parents will not know who is driving these buses. ... If (drivers are) employed by the school district, a criminal record check is mandatory. A private company does not have to do that."

Palm disagreed. "This is not true," he told The Herald-Palladium. "In all the requests for proposals (RFP), we insisted on background checks and drug and alcohol testing. And, as part of the RFP, we ask all successful bidders to interview all (ISD) employees and consider them first."

The St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Herald-Palladium, "ISD considers private school bus service," Jan. 20, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Contract Out School Services Before Laying Off Teachers," Nov. 20, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Habit 2: Take Advantage of Cost Savings Through Outsourcing Non-Instructional Services," Dec. 3, 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Privatization's Big Picture," Summer 1996

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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