Contents of this issue:
  • MEA attempts to reduce health care costs
  • School employee benefits divert per-pupil funding
  • Independent schools outperform public in Southwest Michigan
  • More Michigan schools perform well under NCLB
  • Willow Run implements contract
  • Comment and enter to win an iPod

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Education Association school employees union is being criticized by its professional staff for trying to reduce benefits costs, according to several media reports.

MEA management and the United Staff Organization, a union that represents about 600 employees who work for the MEA, were negotiating last week on a new contract, the Detroit Free Press reported.

MEA management wanted the USO to accept reduced retirement benefits, which USO President Tom Greene called "hypocritical," according to the Michigan Information & Research Service, a Lansing-based political newsletter.

"I just find that totally horrendous when that is the same issue that the MEA has been fighting on behalf of MEA membership," Greene told MIRS.

MEA management is asking USO union employees to work 20 years in order to receive retiree health care that is 50 percent employer-paid. Teachers who belong to the MEA get fully paid retiree health care after 10 years of work.

"We find it completely unacceptable that MEA President Salters would propose rollbacks that would gut staff's current retirement plan," Greene told Gongwer News Service, another Lansing-based political newsletter. "Our bleak future becomes their bleak future."

Detroit Free Press, "Teachers union in strike talks," Aug. 29, 2007

Gongwer News Service, "MEA faces possible strike," Aug. 29, 2007
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MIRS, "MEA employees call MEA 'hypocritical,'" Aug. 28, 2007
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Michigan Education Report, "A 'Total Disconnect;' MEA staff salaries found to be considerably higher than teachers," May 25, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "MESSA reports $65 million revenue gain in one year," May 24, 2007

Michigan Education Report, "Growing number of districts seek solutions to costly health insurance," Dec. 15, 2005

JACKSON, Mich. — More than 25 percent of the money schools receive to educate children is used to pay for employee benefits in some districts, according to The Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Vandercook Lake Public Schools spends more than 28 percent of its budget on health insurance for teachers and other staff. Albion Public Schools, the lowest in the Jackson area, spends just under 20 percent, The Citizen Patriot reported.

"The reality is that some of these costs are outstripping the (funding) increases we're getting," William Cole, superintendent of Jackson Western, told The Citizen Patriot. "It's really out of our hands."

Proposals in the Michigan Senate would allow school districts to form regional pools to seek lower health insurance costs. The Citizen Patriot said the Michigan Education Association school employees union is opposed to the idea because it says pooling would require the release of personal information as part of the claims data districts need to seek competitive insurance bids. Supporters of the legislation say only aggregate claims data, which doesn't include personal information, is all that districts would need for pools to succeed.

Gary Fralick, spokesman for the Michigan Education Special Services Agency, told The Citizen Patriot that releasing claims data "is a political issue aimed at destroying MESSA's pools in an effort to harm both MESSA and the MEA."

The Citizen Patriot reported that MESSA, a third-party administrator, "pumps millions of dollars into union coffers."

The Jackson Citizen Patriot, "Are big benefits healthy?" Aug. 26, 2007

Michigan Education Report, "MESSA reports $65 million revenue gain in one year," May 24, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A Collective Bargaining Primer for Michigan School Board Members: (1) Association Plans," Feb. 28, 2007

Michigan Education Report, "Districts look to cut insurance bills through health savings accounts," Aug. 15, 2007

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Students at the three largest independent schools in the Kalamazoo area scored better on the ACT than the best performing public school in the area, according to The Kalamazoo Gazette.

Students from Hackett Catholic Central, Kalamazoo Christian and Heritage Christian Academy had a mean ACT composite of 23, which was more than a point higher than Portage Central High School, The Gazette reported.

"We were very, very happy with the results," Hackett Principal Tim Eastman told The Gazette. "We're going to be celebrating those scores."

Martin Ackley, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, said scores from public and private schools shouldn't be compared.

"You can't do a side-by-side comparison," he told The Gazette. "One reason is that not all the private schools administer the tests and the second reason is that, at the schools that do give them, not all the students take it."

Eastman, however, said Hackett and other independent schools consider public schools as their competition.

"Internally, we certainly look at how Portage and Mattawan and Kalamazoo are doing compared to us," he told The Gazette.

Michael Stripp, a retired Comstock teacher whose children attend Kalamazoo Christian High School, said the media often compares public schools against each other, even those with large differences in demographics.

"I would agree that private schools are different from public schools, no question about it," he told The Gazette. "But the public schools are different from each other, too. ... If you're going to tell the story, you should tell the whole story, and I think private schools are part of it."

The Kalamazoo Gazette, "Private schools outperform public, but should scores be compared?" Aug. 26, 2007

Michigan Education Digest, "Students perform poorly on Michigan Merit Exam," Aug. 21, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Catholic Schools and the Common Good," June 6, 2005

DETROIT — More elementary and middle schools in Michigan met the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind act in 2007 compared to 2006, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Some 177 schools, or 7 percent, failed to meet the goals established by NCLB, the Free Press reported, meaning 93 percent did meet the requirements. That is up from 91 percent in 2006.

Schools that do not meet student achievement goals set by NCLB for more than a year are classified as in need of improvement and they must offer children assigned to those schools free tutoring and the option to attend a school that has higher achievement, the Free Press reported.

Of the schools that did not meet the federal standards, more than 80 are located in the Metro Detroit area, with 55 of them in Detroit Public Schools, according to the Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, "Only 7% of Michigan schools falter under federal requirements," Aug. 31, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "NCLB Falls Short of Helping Parents," Aug. 24, 2007

Michigan Education Report, "A Plus plan would permit states to opt out of NCLB," Aug. 15, 2007

YPSILANTI, Mich. — Willow Run schools implemented a one-year contract for its teachers union after two years of negotiations failed to produce results, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The contract freezes pay and offers no step increases while requiring teachers to pay a $2,500 deductible for their own health insurance, The News reported. The district has a $2.6 million deficit.

"This was our last best offer," board President Claudette Braxton told The News. "The bottom line is we don't have the money. We have a negative fund balance and we felt we had an obligation to do what we have to do."

Willow Run teachers earlier in the summer offered concessions worth about $500,000, according to The News.

The Ann Arbor News, "Willow Run imposes contract," Aug. 30, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A Collective Bargaining Primer for Michigan School Boards," Feb. 28, 2007

Michigan Education Digest, "Ironwood board implements new contract," July 25, 2006

MIDLAND, Mich. — Go to and post a comment for a chance to win one of three iPods.

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

Contact Managing Editor Sarah Grether at

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