Contents of this issue:

  • Bankruptcy next for DPS?
  • GR revamps alternative ed approach
  • ACLU: School discipline is uneven
  • Romeo budget hinges on concessions          
  • Home-school numbers up


DETROIT - Potential bankruptcy, continuing budget problems, more staff cuts and allegations of theft at Detroit Public Schools all were reported by Detroit media during the past week.

Meanwhile, the district's teachers union announced an investigation into potential embezzlement in its own operations.

Robert Bobb, DPS emergency financial manager, announced Monday that the district's budget calls for spending $259 million more than it has in revenue, that he will cut about 2,500 employees rather than the 1,800 announced earlier, and that he is considering filing bankruptcy, the Detroit Free Press reported.

To avoid continued overspending next year, labor unions would have to agree to larger class sizes and $137 million in concessions, potentially including unpaid furloughs and health care benefit cuts, the Free Press reported.

In other news, six DPS employees were suspended and face possible legal charges for allegedly stealing money or computers or for alleged abuse of students, according to the Free Press.

Finally, The Detroit News reported that Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson announced a forensic audit of union finances in a case involving alleged embezzlement of tens of thousands of dollars. He told The News that he and another employee noticed financial irregularities about two months ago.

Last year The News reported that the union was behind by $1.5 million on dues owed to its state and national affiliates, among other financial difficulties.

Detroit Free Press, "6 DPS employees suspended," June 27, 2009

Detroit Free Press, "Bankruptcy may be next for Detroit schools, Bobb says," June 29, 2009

The Detroit News, "Detroit teachers union investigates embezzlement," June 26, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "Should Michigan lift the cap on charter public schools? Yes" Nov. 21, 2006


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Only 33 percent of the students enrolled in Grand Rapids alternative high schools graduated last year, a number the district believes can be improved by switching to online courses, extended days and hours and a lower student- adult ratio, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Beginning this fall, alternative education students will take online courses at "Student Success Centers" under the supervision of teachers, paraprofessionals and college tutors, putting the adult-student ratio at 4.6-to-1, the report said.

Graduates will receive high school diplomas from their "base high school" and will be eligible to participate in interscholastic sports through that school, The Press reported.

"Our graduation and academic failure rates speak rather clearly as to why we need dramatic, innovative changes," Kurt Johnson, director of alternative education and athletics, told The Press.

Enrollees will be able to take morning, afternoon, evening or weekend classes throughout an extended school year, the report said.

The Grand Rapids Press, "GRPS eyes alternative education reforms," June 8, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "New high school graduation requirements in action," May 6, 2008


DETROIT - African-American students are suspended or expelled at disproportionately higher rates than white students in Michigan, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, The Detroit News reported.

"Reclaiming Michigan's Throwaway Kids" showed that white students tend to be disciplined at rates proportional to their number in the school population overall, but black students were disciplined more often, The News reported.

At the Van Dyke School District in Warren in 2007-2008, black students made up 32 percent of the secondary school population but received 58 percent of the short-term suspensions, the ACLU reported, according to The News. All four expulsions and nine of 12 long-term suspensions involved black students.

Kathleen Spaulding, Van Dyke superintendent, disputed the findings and said the district follows state law and its own code of student conduct "uniformly and consistently," The News reported.

Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, called some discipline policies "draconian," and said they create a "school-to-prison pipeline," according to The News.

The Detroit News, "ACLU report shows disparity in school discipline," June 25, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "Education at a Glance: Leading causes of student expulsions," Feb. 29, 2008


ROMEO, Mich. - Headed into contract negotiations, the Romeo school board has adopted a $50 million budget that counts on $2 million in employee wage or benefit concessions, The Macomb Daily reported.

To address overspending, the district has cut $1 million each from operations/maintenance and instruction, closed an elementary school and offered employee buyouts, according to The Daily.

"We're not dipping into our fund equity," said board Trustee Jennifer White, according to The Daily. "Hopefully our unions will come up with concessions."

Concessions "don't necessarily have to be wages," said White, according to The Daily, but could take the form of reduced benefits or a freeze on salary schedule increases.

The district has between $3 million and $4 million in fund equity, but anticipates needing it a year from now when state funding and property tax revenue are expected to decline significantly, The Daily reported.

The Macomb Daily, "Romeo school passes budget, but wants concessions from employees," June 24, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A Michigan school money primer," May 30, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, School District Collective Bargaining Agreements, "Agreement between the Romeo Community Schools Board of Education and the MEA-NEA Local 1, Romeo, 2007- 2009"


NILES, Mich. - Home-school students from the Niles area put together an archaeology exhibit for the Fort St. Joseph Museum recently, the Niles Daily Star reported. In related news, USA Today reported that an estimated 1.5 million children in the country are home-schooled, up from 850,000 a decade ago.

The Fort St. Joseph Museum exhibit focuses on the ongoing archaeological work at the fort, including a description of the dewatering procedures used there, the excavation process and some artifacts, the Star reported. Home-school parent Renee Kurtzweil, who was site director for the Western Michigan University archaeology field school at the fort in 1998, led the project.

The exhibit also includes information on the Chickasaw Wars, which students researched by studying transcripts translated from the original French, the Star reported. About 25 area home- school students participated.

USA Today reported that about 36 percent of parents who home- school do so to provide religious or moral instruction, according to the U.S. Department of Education. An additional 21 percent cited safety concerns and 17 percent said they were dissatisfied with academic instruction. The government report said that home schooling has grown particularly among high- income families, USA Today reported.

Niles Daily Star, "Lessons in local history," June 23, 2009

USA Today, "More higher-income families are home schooling their children," June 2, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "Fifteen years later, home-schoolers say legal battle was worth it," May 27, 2008

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

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at

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