Contents of this issue:
  • Kent union says teachers prepared to strike illegally

  • Campaign to ban race preferences postponed until 2006

  • Kentwood district imposes contract on union members

  • Hundreds of protesters disrupt Detroit board meeting

  • Report: Colleges not training qualified teachers

  • Fraud charged in 'wired' classroom program

  • COMMENTARY: Merit pay key to teacher quality

KENTWOOD, Mich. — The Kent County Education Association revealed the results this week of a vote taken last year by its members authorizing a countywide sympathy strike in the event of a disagreement over contract talks, a move that is illegal under Michigan law.

The 7,400 members of the KCEA agreed to a strike this fall if leaders feel it is necessary to gain support for their side of contract talks in the county. Some parents say that the possibility of a strike is worrisome because it may interrupt the education of their children this fall. "It certainly does cause concern," said James Swoboda, a parent of two students at Kentwood schools. "I hope cooler heads can prevail."

School officials said they don't believe teachers will agree to a strike if called upon. "I believe that our teachers and staff will keep working no matter what happens in another district," said Rockford Superintendent Michael Shibler. "Both sides worked hard to come to a deal that is fair, and I expect them to honor that."

Public Acts 112 and 117 of 1995 make teacher strikes and district lockouts during the school year illegal. Those found to be in violation of the laws face steep fines because of a strike's impact on the education of students in the district where it may take place.

Grand Rapids Press, "Teachers are ready to walk, union says," June 20, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A New Day for Michigan Schools," April 1995

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table,"
August 1998

SOUTHGATE, Mich. — A citizen ballot initiative looking to ban race preferences at Michigan colleges and universities will postpone plans to gather signatures for this fall's ballot and wait for the 2006 election instead.

Campaign leaders for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative say they will focus efforts on the two years preceding the 2006 election in order to ensure they will obtain the necessary 400,000 signatures to place their initiative on the ballot for that year. The initiative, launched by California businessman Ward Connerly and directed by Jennifer Gratz, would amend the state constitution to include language prohibiting discrimination or special privileges in any public institution of higher education.

The initiative was founded in response to a Supreme Court decision last summer that found unconstitutional an admissions ratings system that gave points to minority applicants at the University of Michigan. State Rep. Leon Drolet, R-Clinton Township, co-chair of the Initiative, believes the ballot drive will be successful. "We have a paid effort in the field, 1,660 volunteers who signed up. We have regained momentum, and we have golden language that courts have ruled is constitutional," he told the Detroit Free Press.

Critics of the ballot proposal say the group's name is misleading. A spokesman for Citizens for a United Michigan said that most Michigan citizens are not automatically opposed to programs that help minorities and women.

Detroit Free Press, "Push to ban race preferences postponed," June 16, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Is Affirmative Action the Right Fight?" June 2004

KENTWOOD, Mich. — More than a year of legal wrangling and disagreements over health care caused the Kentwood School District's administration to impose a contract on nearly 900 school district employees. Tensions between the district and the teachers' union rose after the district's forced contract move, which some say could cause a strike this fall, which would be illegal under Michigan law.

"It's unfair, and it's unjust," opined teachers' union president Jim Sawyer.

The decision comes just days after two union-supported candidates were elected to the Kentwood school board in an attempt to swing contract negotiations. "[Voters] felt there needed to be a change of perspective in negotiations, and the board decided to go in the opposite direction," Sawyer told the Grand Rapids press.

District officials say the move was necessary to control health care costs. Those officials said that costs could spiral out of control if measures were not taken to save money on plans provided through the MEA-linked Michigan Education Special Services Administration (MESSA). The district said it offered to provide a less-expensive health insurance plan through Priority Health, but MESSA refused to allow union members a choice between the more economical plan and its own.

Grand Rapids Press, "Teachers' union leader calls imposing contract 'unjust'," June 16, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MEA Abuses Public School Health Care Funds," Aug. 7, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," November 1993

Michigan Privatization Report, "Ensuring Insurance Competition," September 1998

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A New Day for Michigan Schools," April 1995

DETROIT, Mich. — Detroit Public Schools officials closed a school board meeting last Thursday because there was no police presence to control the crowd. A crowd of 700-plus had attended the meeting to protest layoffs throughout the city's schools.

Board president Bill Brooks told the Detroit Free Press that he was concerned for the safety of board members and the crowd as a whole. "With a crowd that size you really need to have some people with real authority," he said. "It becomes a risk management issue for the district."

On June 11, the district announced 3,200 layoffs — including 900 teachers — as a cost-saving measure to avoid multi-million dollar deficits. According to district officials, cutting those jobs will save the district from a $78 million deficit this year and a $91 million deficit next year.

Responding to criticism that the district's physical plants will not be able to be properly run and maintained, district spokesman Mario Marrow said there is sufficient staff to keep schools running. "We sympathize with those people who were laid off," Morrow said. "And we are continually assessing this problem every day and if the opportunity presents itself, there's a slim chance that people will be called back. But there are no guarantees."

Detroit Free Press, "Protesters, lack of security end Detroit schools meeting," June 18, 2004

Detroit News, "Laid-off school workers fume," June 18, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" August 2001

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A number of education experts speaking to an audience of ten governors at an education symposium derided public universities nationwide for failing to turn out properly qualified teachers.

The 2004 Governors Education Symposium brought together governors for panel discussions and presentations by members of the federal government, states and research institutes from around the country. In a session focusing on teacher quality, Eli Broad, founder of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, told governors that, "Too many teachers wash out of the profession each year due to inadequate preparation. ...Education schools, particularly at our public universities, have failed to provide the proper training to prepare teachers."

The quest for qualified teachers has heated since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, which requires that all teachers be highly qualified. In addition, many teachers in urban areas leave the profession due to poor preparation for their job, according to Eric Hirsch, vice president of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality. Preparing teachers for urban assignments should be clinical in nature, said Hirsch, "like a doctor in a teaching hospital."

SOURCES:, "Colleges get flak for teacher training," June 17, 2004 ?pa=story&sa=showStoryInfo& id=379393&columns=false

Michigan Education Report, "Michigan lagging in teacher quality says federal agency,"
Early Fall 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Must Teachers Be Certified to Be Qualified?" February 1999

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A multi-billion dollar federal program has been plagued by delays, bloat and, most recently, charges of fraud for the company which holds the contract.

The federal E-Rate program, charged with wiring classrooms to the Internet across America, is investigating charges of overspending by districts and high overhead costs and fraud by NEC, a contracting company with the program.

School administrators in Puerto Rico, for instance, spent $101 million to wire just nine schools, and Atlanta schools are receiving flak for spending $73 million on a wiring project without seeking competitive bids. NEC agreed last month to pay fines and restitution of $21 million in its fraud case.

Some supporters of the E-Rate program say much of the misallocation of funds by schools stems from a lack of a local stake in technology investment. "If you bumped their [investment] portion to 25 or 30 percent, they would have a bigger stake," said Jeannene Hurley, E-rate coordinator of Michigan schools. "If they had more invested, they might think more about getting that multimillion-dollar server."

Christian Science Monitor, "Fraud charges cloud plan for 'wired' classrooms," June 17, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "State Provision of Internet Access: A Bad Idea Whose Time Shouldn't Come," December 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A commentary published last week by Education Week expressed dismay at the lack of opportunities around the country for teachers to strive for improvement and higher pay in their profession.

The commentary, authored by former North Carolina Governor and founder of the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership, James B. Hunt, Jr., calls attention to a report by the Teaching Commission, which says the top priority for education officials should be finding ways to compensate good teachers for good performance. "A system that does not reward high performance is unlikely to inspire it," wrote Hunt.

The requirements for such an initiative would be increased student performance and accountability methods to track students' improvement. Education officials must take a serious look at merit pay programs because it is the best way to guarantee good teaching and successful students, said Hunt.

Education Week, "A Quid Pro Quo For Teacher Quality," June 16, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality: How Do They Relate?" Spring 1999

Michigan Education Report, "Increase teachers' pay the right way," Early Fall 2000

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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