Contents of this issue:
  • MESSA outsources Jackson wellness program
  • Detroit Federation of Teachers $1.7M in debt
  • Galesburg-Augusta super quits; union won't agree to contract
  • KCC faculty agree to contract
  • Grand Rapids teachers picket board meeting over contract
  • Comment and win an iPod

JACKSON, Mich. — The Michigan Education Special Services Association, the third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association school employees union, has hired a private consultant to run a trial employee wellness program in the Jackson Public Schools, according to The Jackson Citizen Patriot.

MESSA hired the Kalamazoo-based Holtyn & Associates to run the program, but was unwilling to release information about its costs, the Citizen Patriot reported.

"Ultimately, we want to see what we can do to contain costs," Mona Tropf, health education and promotion specialist for MESSA, told The Citizen Patriot.

The company will begin by examining and surveying the district's 785 employees about their health and will then collect blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, body-fat and physical fitness information twice a year, The Citizen Patriot reported.

"You set goals with somebody — who you now have a rapport with — and now you have to be accountable," Ken Holtyn told the Jackson board of education. "If we can change the culture within an organization ... you will get all of the benefits scientists talk about: lower health-care costs and higher productivity."

The Jackson Citizen Patriot, "JPS to monitor workers' health," Jan. 25, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Opposition to Privatization," in "A School Privatization Primer," June 26, 2007

DETROIT — The Detroit Federation of Teachers union owes $1.7 million in a combination of back property taxes and dues to state and national affiliates, according to The Detroit News.

According to DFT business manager Sherri M. Patrick, the union thought it had paid off all of its property tax debts until it found, through questions from a reporter, that they were not.

The Wayne County Treasurer's office could have petitioned for foreclosure if the tax problems from 2005 weren't settled by April 1. Patrick said that the union has completed paying its back taxes, The News reported.

The $1.5 million in late dues to the state and national affiliates came about after the union purchased a new headquarters in 2004 and increased operating costs. This dropped the union's cash reserves from just under $4 million to $2.22 million, The News reported. Additionally, financial problems only worsened because of an unbudgeted two-week strike at the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year, according to The News. Teacher strikes are illegal under Michigan law. The union also has seen a drop in dues of about $1 million annually as membership has decreased by 3,000 since 2004.

Union President Virginia Cantrell has enacted a number of spending reforms and restructured union staff, The News reported. The union has cut at least $300,000 in salaries and benefits through this reorganization.

"President Cantrell has made a number of budget cuts and skimmed and trimmed the fat," Patrick told The News. "We are comfortable now. We don't feel we will be in that situation again."

The Detroit News, "Teachers union acts to fix debts of $1.7M," Jan. 28, 2008

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit Federation of Teachers owes $2 million to affiliates," April 17, 2007

GALESBURG, Mich. — The superintendent of Galesburg-Augusta schools has resigned in an attempt to save the district money, while the teachers union remains in the midst of an eight-month contract battle, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Superintendent Eric Palmu, 54, resigned from his $93,000-a-year job as a way to save money and prevent the elimination of some programs and reduce the effect on teaching staff. He hopes the district can hire an interim superintendent with a smaller salary. The district is currently overspending its budget by about $250,000, the Enquirer reported.

"I was thinking maybe this was going to be my last year, but when our budget got to a point to where we were going to disrupt two teachers, it just made no sense to me," Palmu told to the board of education, according to the Enquirer. "Save those two teachers; don't disrupt those learning environments. That's what's really important."

The district initially planned to reduce hours for two librarians, four support staff, four aides and two high school teachers, while also cutting administrator salaries and eliminating the $1,200 stipend for the board of education, the Enquirer reported.

While these groups are receiving pay cuts, the Galesburg-Augusta Education Association union has been held up in teacher contract negotiations. Neither the union nor the district would discuss the details.

Battle Creek Enquirer, "Galesburg-Augusta schools chief quits," Jan. 22, 2008 801220309/1002/NEWS01

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

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — The Kellogg Community College faculty union has agreed to accept a less expensive health benefits plan, saving the school about $140,000, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Until now, the college faculty received the Michigan Education Special Services Association Supercare health insurance package, but has moved to the less-costly Choices II plan, according to the Enquirer. MESSA is a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association school employees union that outsources insurance underwriting and then resells it to schools.

Administrators and other collective bargaining groups within the college switched to health savings accounts. However, the professors received a 2 percent pay increase for their concessions, the Enquirer reported.

"The faculty were interested in saving on health insurance and we were, too," college President Ed Haring told the Enquirer. "That was kind of the entree."

Battle Creek Enquirer, "KCC board approves tentative teacher contract, health insurance to change," Jan. 23, 2008

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

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Public Schools teachers union picketed a recent board meeting over stalled contract negotiations due to salaries and benefits conflicts, according to WOOD-TV.

The district's 1,700-plus teachers have failed to come to an agreement with the district and have worked without a contract the entire school year. According to a union memo, the district is currently offering a 1 percent pay increase, in addition to a $90 a month co-pay for insurance coverage, WOOD-TV reported.

Teachers are the only employment group in the district that does not contribute to their own health insurance, according to WOOD-TV.

Union President Paul Helder sees no problem with insurance contributions, but says the pay raise does not offset the new insurance charge.

"You cannot expect educated professionals to increase their workload while decreasing their incomes year after year after year," Helder told the school board, according to WOOD-TV. GRPS Superintendent Bernard Taylor said the demands placed on the teachers are not at all different from trends in employment throughout the state.

"The bottom line is that this state does not have sufficient resources for us to continue to provide quality education for these children and meet the myriad of demands that their families put before us and at the same time look at doing things we've done in the past. Those days are over. And if you don't believe that, ask an auto worker if their benefits are the same as they were in years past?" Taylor said during the board meeting, according to WOOD-TV.

WOOD TV, "Contract issues heat up GRPS meeting," Jan. 23, 2008

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