Contents of this issue:

  • Southfield goes public on bargaining
  • MESSA an issue in contract talks
  • Districts eye school closings
  • Muskegon Catholic schools adopt merit pay
  • Mount Pleasant, others looking at insurance pool
  • Michigan Education Digest returns Jan. 6


SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - Southfield Public Schools wants to freeze teacher wages but offer educators lump sum payments if enrollment improves, according to the Observer & Eccentric.

Floyd Allen, the district's chief negotiator, said that the district is asking for the wage freeze, as well as caps on health care payments and greater flexibility in hiring and layoffs as part of current contract negotiations, the Observer & Eccentric reported.

In discussing the matter at a school board meeting, Allen said that employee unions have asked for 5 percent raises, according to the Observer & Eccentric. Ted Peters, chief negotiator for the Southfield Education Association, told the Observer & Eccentric that the 5 percent request was only an opening proposal and that he was surprised that Allen raised the matter publicly, saying such discussion typically remains at the bargaining table.

Allen cited the state economy and continuing enrollment decline as reasons for the district's bargaining positions, the Observer & Eccentric reported.

The Observer & Eccentric, "Schools go public with bargaining goals," Dec. 21, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "Collective Bargaining 101," Feb. 23, 2007


DETROIT - Health insurance is a key issue in stalled teacher contract negotiations in dozens of Michigan school districts, with arguments over union-affiliated insurance generating talk of teacher strikes, according to the Detroit Free Press.

At issue is the Michigan Education Special Services Association, a Michigan Education Association affiliate that sells insurance packages to a majority of Michigan public school districts, according to the Free Press. Under a new state law, MESSA is required to release claims histories to individual school districts, which can use that data to solicit bids from different providers in an effort to reduce costs, the Free Press reported.

But many teachers want to retain MESSA coverage, with union leaders calling it competitively priced and one of the few perks of teaching, according to the Free Press. School administrators counter that comparable plans are available at less cost, the Free Press reported. The dispute was one reason for a four-day teacher walkout in Wayne-Westland this fall, according to the article, which also quoted a Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesman as saying "strike talk is alive and kicking" there.

The Free Press reviewed the financial and personnel ties between MESSA and the MEA, noting that millions of dollars flow between the two each year. Critics say that MESSA has unique access to promote its insurance plans to teachers, while MESSA officials said it is not uncommon for affiliated groups to share some costs and to sit on each other's boards.

The Detroit Free Press, "Threat of change worries teachers in fight for insurance," Dec. 21, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How MESSA and the MEA work," Feb. 2, 2008


PONTIAC, Mich. - School closing discussions are under way in Flint, Pontiac, Bloomfield Hills and Bullock Creek school districts, according to media reports in those areas, including a plan to close up to half of Pontiac's buildings.

Looking to cut $10 million from its budget, an advisory committee in Pontiac has recommended merging the district's two high schools and hiring a private entity to run the high school operation, according to The Oakland Press. The committee also recommended several options for closing and restructuring elementary and middle schools.

In Bloomfield Hills, the school board has delayed a decision on closing two elementary schools while administrators address questions about busing and middle school configurations, also according to The Press.

The Flint Journal reported that an advisory committee has recommended closing up to 17 of 35 buildings in Flint Public Schools, including eight elementary schools, due to declining enrollment. The committee released its report to the school board but not to the public at large, a decision that angered some parents, according to The Journal. The Journal was given a copy to review.

Midland County's Bullock Creek school district will consider several ways to avoid moving into a deficit budget situation, among them a countywide enhancement millage, extending a bond millage, and closing two of three elementary buildings, according to the Midland Daily News.

The Oakland Press, "Bloomfield Hills board delays closing two schools," Dec. 19, 2008

The Oakland Press, "Pontiac Central to close?" Dec. 17, 2008

The Flint Journal, "Top three recommendations all call for Flint to close Anderson, Coolidge, Freeman, Garfield, Merrill, Pierce, Summerfield, Wilkins elementary schools," Dec. 18, 2008

Midland Daily News, "Bullock Creek looks to trim $1 million," Dec. 18, 2008

Michigan Education Digest, "Enrollment down, charters and choice up," Sept. 30, 2008


MUSKEGON, Mich. - Muskegon Catholic Schools has implemented a performance pay system for teachers this year, based on student progress on the Measures of Academic Progress test as well as overall class progress and annual evaluations, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

"We think it will be effective," Superintendent Robert Bridges told The Chronicle. "Research shows kids ... can do 50 percent better on standardized tests with effective teachers."

The school system employs 40 teachers in three schools, The Chronicle reported. In addition to testing students each fall and spring, the new plan also replaces a 25-page teacher evaluation document with a single-page rubric of expectations, Bridges told The Chronicle.

"We now have a better idea of what's expected of us," teacher Elise Hilton told The Chronicle. "Change is always scary, but a professional is always looking for how they can do their job better."

Performance pay is criticized by the Michigan Education Association, the union representing most Michigan public school teachers, The Chronicle reported. Doug Pratt, MEA communications director, told The Chronicle that merit pay is not fair to all teachers because the factors behind student performance are complicated and difficult to measure.

The Chronicle noted that National Heritage Academies, including Timberland Academy in Muskegon Township, has used performance pay for several years.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Schools begin to embrace teacher merit pay," Dec. 1, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "Schools show interest in pilot merit pay program," Oct. 21, 2008


MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Mount Pleasant Public Schools will join other districts in the area to explore forming a health insurance pool, according to the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun. The Morning Sun reported that Mount Pleasant signed a letter of intent to join other districts in the Clare-Gladwin and Gratiot- Isabella regional service districts in a group effort to gauge the cost of buying pooled health insurance.

The letter does not require Mount Pleasant to join the pool, the Morning Sun reported, but allows it to participate in the process of gathering and evaluating bids. Currently, Mount Pleasant purchases health insurance through the Michigan Education Special Services Association, an affiliate of the Michigan Education Association, according to the Morning Sun.

In the past, MESSA has been reluctant to release claims histories to individual school districts, the Morning Sun reported, but a new state law requires it to release information to any group representing 100 or more employees, such as the proposed pool. That data is said to be useful in seeking bids from alternative insurers, according to the Morning Sun.

The Mount Pleasant Morning Sun, "Labor contract approved by Mt. Pleasant school board," Dec. 16, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "Health insurance: Reformed, but not resolved," Sept. 16, 2008


Today's Michigan Education Digest is the final edition of 2008.

Weekly publication will resume on Jan. 6, 2009.

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

To subscribe or unsubscribe, go to