Contents of this issue:
  • Muskegon support staff dumps MESSA, saves jobs

  • Grand Rapids teachers agree to incentive-based pay

  • List of student names causes concern in Ironwood

  • Detroit teachers union wants more money

  • Study: Detroit graduation rate worst in nation

  • Muskegon charter school expands

  • Editor's Note: Next MED will be distributed Wednesday, July 5

MUSKEGON, Mich. — The 100-member support staff in Muskegon Public Schools voted to get rid of union-affiliated insurance and save the jobs of 10 co-workers, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

The Non-Instructional Employees Association, which covers bus drivers, janitors and food service employees, signed a three-year contract that does not include insurance through the Michigan Education Special Services Association, The Chronicle reported. MESSA is a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association union.

The employees instead will be covered by Priority Health, which will save the district about $370,000, according to The Chronicle.

School officials earlier had said jobs would have to be cut if the contract did not include reduced costs.

"We were given a total we needed to come up with," NIEA President Sherri Dawson told The Chronicle. "We wanted to stay with MESSA, but the numbers couldn't be reached."

Dawson also told The Chronicle that the employees felt "pressure" to stay with MESSA, even though the NIEA is not part of the MEA union.

The Chronicle quoted a union negotiator who said the Priority Health plan is "pretty much the same package" as the more costly MESSA, although co-pay for prescriptions is higher. Employees will not, however, have to pay anything toward premiums with Priority Health.

Dawson told The Chronicle she was glad the district and union were able to negotiate and come to a "sensible, logical conclusion."

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Health care deal keeps Muskegon schools from privatizing," June 21, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Holton staffers drop MESSA," May 2, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Pinckney teachers voluntarily abandon MESSA," Feb. 7, 2006

Michigan Education Digest,"Hartland teachers willing to sacrifice jobs for insurance," April 18, 2006

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids Public Schools will pay teachers more money if they can keep more students in the district, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

A recently approved one-year contract will give teachers a 1.25 percent raise, but that could climb to 1.75 percent if fewer students leave the district than expected, The Press reported.

The district is expecting an enrollment drop of 800 students for the 2006-2007 school year. A sliding scale offers the incentive-based pay raise if more parents choose to keep their children enrolled in the district.

"We're all in this together," Alex Chess, president of the Grand Rapids teachers union, told The Press.

As highlighted in Michigan Education Digest last month, teachers in Otsego agreed to a similar incentive plan, whereby they can receive 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent raises based on enrollment decline or growth.

Chess told The Press it was the union that suggested the incentive during contract negotiations. The contract also gives the district more authority in deciding where teachers are assigned, particularly in cases of specialized training.

"We gave the administration some leeway, but seniority will still play a role," Chess told The Press.

Superintendent Bert Bleke said many teachers wanted a change in the assignment system after they were bumped from jobs by other teachers with more seniority, according to The Press.

The Grand Rapids Press, "If students stay, GR teachers get bonuses," June 20, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Otsego teachers will pay more for expensive MESSA insurance," May 9, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Substitute teachers privatized in Grand Rapids," May 9, 2006

IRONWOOD, Mich. — Parents and school officials are expressing concern about a list of student names and newspaper clippings seen in an area used as a teachers lounge at Wright High School in Ironwood, according to the Ironwood Daily Globe.

Michael Key, a local businessman, said at an Ironwood school board meeting recently that during the last week of school, students gave him a CD with photos on it, the Daily Globe reported. Key displayed the photos at the meeting, which showed a wall posted with newspaper clippings about students who wore T-shirts in a protest against union bargaining methods. The comments made by certain students were highlighted in yellow.

"The personal attacks have got to stop," Key said, according to the Daily Globe. "People have got to be aware that this is going on."

The Daily Globe also reported that parent Lowell Vomhof wrote to Principal Tim Kolesar about the issue.

"I find it unbelievable that adults at this school would engage in such behavior toward students," Vomhof's letter said, according to the Daily Globe.

Kolesar told the Daily Globe he conducted an investigation, and that when he went to the room, everything had been removed.

"I am not aware of any evidence of mistreatment," Kolesar told the Daily Globe. "These are good kids. If I find out anyone was mistreated, I'll deal with it."

Key said he felt the school did not take enough action.

"It cannot go unchecked," Key said, according to the Daily Globe. "We cannot let this incivility go unchecked, where you can go after anybody who disagrees with you. That incivility is going to destroy the community."

Ironwood Daily Globe, "Citizen calls for civility in school talks," June 21, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Irony in Ironwood," May 23, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "MESSA at heart of Ironwood deadlock," Feb. 28, 2006

DETROIT — The Detroit Federation of Teachers is requesting a 15.6 percent raise for its top-tier teachers, according to The Detroit News.

Teachers who have a master's degree and have been employed by the district at least nine years are considered top-tier, The News reported. Heated contract talks last summer nearly led to a strike by teachers, according to The News. Teacher strikes are illegal under Michigan law.

School board member Jonathan Kinloch told The News he hopes both sides will be aware of "the effect of the terms on the district's bottom line as well as what's in the best interest for providing a quality education for the children of Detroit."

Top salary for Detroit teachers is about $70,000, compared to $76,000 in suburban Detroit districts, according to a DFT source quoted by The News. DPS enrollment is dropping by about 10,000 students a year, and the district had to borrow $200 million last year to avoid bankruptcy, according to The News.

The Detroit News, "Top Detroit teachers want raise," June 14, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "DPS limits 'excessive' retreat spending," May 23, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Teacher 'sick-out' forces Detroit schools to close," March 28, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit school district reaches short-term agreement," Aug. 30, 2005

DETROIT — A recent study found that Detroit Public Schools has the worst graduation rate of the country's 50 largest districts, according to The Detroit News.

Editorial Projects in Education, of Maryland, said DPS graduated 21.7 percent of the students who made up the class of 2003. DPS says the figure that year was actually 44.5 percent, and is now up to 68 percent, The News reported.

EPE determined the national graduation rate is 69.6 percent, and said Michigan's 66.4 percent ranks it 34th nationally. State officials dispute that, saying 89 percent of Michigan high school students graduate, according to The News. The study is available at

District officials say the study did not take into account the thousands of students who have left DPS over the past several years, The News reported. In an accompanying editorial, The News said no matter which numbers are correct, "the district has failed." The News also pointed out that DPS spends $1.4 billion a year. "And yet the education establishment will not admit defeat and allow parents more publicly funded choices."

The News said the "most humane thing" to do is lift the cap on charter schools in Detroit.

The Detroit News, "Officials dispute claims that Detroit only graduates 1 in 5," June 21, 2006

The Detroit News, "Another failing grade for Detroit schools," June 22, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "DPS students leave rather than relocate," June 6, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit Public Schools enrollment drops again," Nov. 29, 2005

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Muskegon Technical Academy is expanding its high school to accommodate a growing enrollment, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

MTA is building a 4,500-square-foot addition, which will cost between $300,000 and $350,000. A middle/high school wing was added in 2003 for $380,000, The Chronicle reported.

"It's been crowded, and we've been sitting on ourselves," MTA Superintendent Barbara Stellard told The Chronicle. "The demand (to serve more students) is there and we can't put it off any longer."

MTA, the only charter school in Muskegon County that offers a high school, opened in 2001 with 168 students. Current enrollment is about 250, The Chronicle reported.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Charter school expands again to handle growth," June 15, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Growing charter school expects more students at new location," June 13, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "Charter schools continue to see enrollment growth," March 7, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Metro Detroit charter school growing," June 6, 2006

MIDLAND, Mich. — The next issue of Michigan Education Digest will be distributed Wednesday, July 5, due to the Fourth of July holiday. We encourage everyone to celebrate Independence Day with passion and verve, remembering it as the signatory day of a document embodying the most sublime of political ideals, an apogee in humanity's quest for liberty of thought and action.

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of nearly 150,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Ted O'Neil at

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