Short Subjects

Birmingham Public Schools officials say more students each year claim to live in the district, but don’t. The board of education plans to crack down on those families this year. Residency fraud typically happens in areas where academically strong districts border those with lower test scores, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Utah became the first state to offer nearly all parents a choice in their children’s education when Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed the "Parent Choice in Education Act" in February. The law will provide almost all Utah parents with school-age children a voucher worth $500 to $3,000, based on parents’ income. The voucher can be used at private schools that disclose teachers’ credentials and, among other requirements, meet certain standards for antidiscrimination, health, safety and achievement testing.

More than 5 percent of Michigan’s student population, or about 91,500 students, now attend charter schools, according to this year’s Report to the Legislature on Public School Academies. A total of 225 charter schools were in operation in 2005-06. Twelve new schools opened during the year and five closed.

A school district may not collect payroll deductions on behalf of a union’s political action committee, even if the deductions are voluntary and the union pays all administrative costs in advance, according to Michigan Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land. The Michigan Campaign Finance Act prohibits such activity, Land said.

Borrowing from the fund balance to make ends meet has become the norm in many Michigan school districts – but not all. More than 300 districts reported their fund balance increased from 2004 to 2005, and a few small districts have cash on hand equal to 90 percent or more of their operating budgets.

The Millington Board of Education has opted not to collect union dues on behalf of the Tri-County/Millington Education Association since the teachers union contract expired on June 30, 2006. The district and teachers are now in negotiations over a new contract; health insurance costs are a key issue.

Ithaca, Alma and St. Louis schools will conduct Board of Education elections in November rather than May as a cost-saving move. As reported in the Saginaw News, the elections now will coincide with city, county, state and federal general elections. The change also means that all board members will serve six-year terms instead of four-year terms.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments this term over whether a public-sector union can use nonmembers’ fees for political activity or whether it must first obtain the nonmembers’ consent. The case, on appeal from the Washington Supreme Court, consolidates two suits pitting the Washington Education Association against the State of Washington and non-member teachers. The question is whether the WEA can use agency fees – paid by non-members to the union for representation – for political purposes. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has filed a brief in support of the state and the non-member teachers, saying that a union should be allowed to charge only those fees that are related to its statutory duties as the bargaining agent and that the statute requiring affirmative authorization is constitutional.

A study at the University of Michigan will focus on whether the campus is using its space effectively. The study will focus on building use and energy costs; why fewer classes are held in the mornings, evenings and on Fridays; and professor office space, according to an article in The Ann Arbor News. The cost of heating and cooling buildings also was a reason to do the study. Energy costs went up by $20 million in the past two years, the article reported.

Howell Public Schools expects to save about $2 million by refinancing its Parker High School and other construction projects. The plan is to issue $75 million in bonds at current market rates for the purpose of refunding a portion of the original bonds, according to local news reports. The district already refinanced nearly $8 million of the original bonds, saving taxpayers an estimated $400,000. The savings should show up in form of lowered rates on future property tax bills.

Holland Public Schools will begin hiring substitute teachers through a private firm, joining about 25 other school districts in Kent and Ottawa counties. The districts subcontract with the Professional Employment Services Group of Caledonia. According to a report in the Grand Rapids Press, school officials say the change is generally going well and saves districts about 8.5 percent of substitute costs. The districts also avoid paying almost 18 percent of the daily pay into the state’s retirement system, as well as FICA tax.

A Grand Valley State University project will convert cow manure into energy at an area dairy farm. The school’s Michigan Alternative Renewable Energy Center will be constructed at the den Dulk Dairy near Ravenna, according to Imad Mahawili, the center’s executive director. The plant is expected to be in operation by midsummer. The plan is to convert manure into methane gas and subsequently into electricity, a Muskegon Chronicle article reported, and also to produce, as a byproduct, a nutrient-rich fertilizer free of pathogens and odors.

A new teacher contract including slight pay raises and lower health insurance costs has been approved in Harper Creek Community Schools near Battle Creek. The teachers’ current health insurance plan, administrated through the Michigan Education Special Services Association, an affiliate of the Michigan Education Association, a school employees union, will change to a different MESSA plan. The Harper Creek Education Association represents about 163 teachers.

The Ewen-Trout Creek Board of Education has submitted a deficit elimination plan to the Michigan Department of Education which calls for erasing the district’s $1.2 million deficit by 2010. The four-year plan calls for small revenue increases and major expenditure decreases, according to a report in the Ironwood Daily Globe. The plan assumes an increase in donations and cost-saving measures for extracurricular activities, but maintains all academic programs. The district is located in Ontonagon County.

Most Michigan school districts will have "highly qualified" teachers in place in time to meet a June 2007 deadline, state officials say. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires 100 percent of teachers to teach in their field of expertise in the core academic areas of elementary education, special education, math, science, English, foreign languages, art, social studies, economics, political science, geography and history. Flora Jenkins, director of the Office of Professional Preparation for the Michigan Department of Education, said the department expects the June deadline to be met.

Northville Public Schools officials are investigating privatizing the district’s 175 custodial and maintenance, food service and transportation employees. The move is an effort to save money, according to David Bolitho, Northville Public Schools assistant superintendent. Bolitho said in an article in the Northville Record in December that it is too early in the process to estimate Northville’s savings.