Contents of this issue:
  • MESSA delays school insurance savings
  • More students attending charters in Flint area
  • New Haven custodian charged with fifth DUI
  • Willow Run teachers agree to contract, drop grievances
  • DPS spends $1.5 million for travel, catering expenses
  • Comment and win an iPod

LEELANAU COUNTY, Mich. — Three Leelanau County school districts will have to wait at least a year to see any savings under a new state law requiring insurance companies to release claims data so that schools can seek competitive bids for health benefits, according to the Leelanau Enterprise.

Leland, Northport and Suttons Bay superintendents have all requested claims data from the Michigan Education Special Services Association to help collect competitive bids from insurance providers, but MESSA claims it does not have data for individual districts — only for the seven pools of districts into which it divides local Michigan Education Association members, the Enterprise reported. MESSA is a third-party administrator affiliated with the MEA school employees union.

According to Gary Fralick, MESSA's director of communications and government relations, the insurance arm of the MEA began collecting claims data for individual districts on Dec. 1, and districts will have access to four months worth of data in March. This data will not be useful for bidding and district superintendents expect to wait at least a year before there is any chance of switching insurance coverage, according to the Enterprise.

"I expect to hear they don't have it," Leland Superintendent Mike Hartigan told the Enterprise. "It will be hung up until at least the 2009-2010 school year ... There's only so much money in the pot ... MESSA tries to convince folks that nobody provides a product like theirs. But it's not that much better to justify the cost ... We need to make sure to keep this money as close as possible to kids."

State Sen. Michelle McManus of Lake Leelanau finds this unacceptable and is working to close this loophole.

"They should have this information when the law becomes effective (60 days after Dec. 27)," McManus told the Enterprise. "There shouldn't be any hesitation on the part of MESSA ... it's another example of trying to hold on to the advantage they've had over the school districts."

The yearly cost of insurance for these three districts ranged from $405,159 in Northport (about $2,594 per state aid member), the smallest of the three, to $840,000 in Suttons Bay (about $954 per state aid member).

Leelanau Enterprise, "Schools hopes for insurance savings delayed" Jan. 14, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Selective Moral Outrage," Sept. 24, 2007

FLINT, Mich. — According to a study published by a charter school advocacy group, an increasing number of students in the Flint area are attending charter public schools, according to The Flint Journal.

The report, released by The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, found that about 10 percent of Flint area students attend charter schools. This comes at a time when Genesee County districts have seen steep declines in enrollment, while local charter schools have had large gains, The Journal reported.

Some critics argue that there is no relationship between charter schools and the declining enrollment of conventional public schools.

"With the Michigan economy the way it is, I believe that may be driving the decline in enrollment (in public schools)," Doug Pratt, communications director for the Michigan Education Association school employees union, told The Journal. However, the experience at local charter public schools has been different.

"We're getting a lot of inquiries for next year, and we still have wait lists in some grades," Traci Cormier, director of the International Academy.

The Flint Journal, "Flint-area charter schools gain in popularity," Jan. 17, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000

NEW HAVEN, Mich. — A New Haven school custodian was recently arrested for his fifth drunk driving charge since 1986, and second since 2002, according to the Macomb Daily.

Brett Harris, also the New Haven Village president, was pulled over for driving 82 mph in a 55 mph zone and was found to have a blood alcohol level of .206, more than twice the legal limit, the Daily reported. Harris is free on a $5,000 bond and is planning on taking a 30-day leave from his post as village president to enter into a rehabilitation program, the Daily reported.

Many residents are calling for his removal from public office and scolded him at a recent meeting for endangering the safety of their children and for his performance as a community leader, according to the Daily.

"This guy has totally lost control and the people who have suffered the most is us," Paul Hea, vice president of the Amherst Subdivision Association in New Haven, told the Daily.

Macomb Daily, "Embattled village boss won't quit," Jan. 14, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "Competitive contracting grows despite myths," Sept. 6, 2006

WILLOW RUN, Mich. — The Willow Run teachers union agreed to a contract after two and a half years of negotiation and has decided to keep the insurance plan implemented by the board of education last August, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The contract does not include a pay increase for this year, but includes a 1 percent raise for the 2008-2009 school year. The health plan includes a $1,250 deductible contribution for individuals and a $2,500 deductible per family. The district is also offering options for HMO or PPO coverage. Additionally, as a part of the contract, the district will give each teacher $500, which could be applied to the cost of health insurance, The News reported.

The union, which approved the contract 73 percent to 27 percent, also agreed to drop the 20 grievances it filed against the district since the school year began, according to The News.

"I am most pleased that this has finally come to an end, and hopefully our focus will now be all about the kids," Superintendent Doris Hope-Jackson told The News."

The Ann Arbor News, "Willow Run teachers approve four year contract," Jan. 17, 2008

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

DETROIT — The Detroit Public Schools spent more than $1.5 million in travel and catering expenditures over the last fiscal year, similar to what it has reported spending the past few years, according to the Associated Press.

After reports of excessive spending in 2005 and 2006, the district agreed to take measures to reduce such spending. Superintendent Connie Calloway refused to comment, but district spokesman Steve Wasko said the expenditures primarily took place before Calloway took over the position in July, the Associated Press reported.

The Associated Press, "Detroit Public Schools spent $1.5M on trips, catering," Jan. 20, 2008 storylist=newsmichigan

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Expenditures" in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007

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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