Contents of this issue:

  • Parents question Chippewa Valley spending
  • Court backs union, privatization 'chill' debated
  • Private school to focus on teen dropouts
  • Michigan gets C+ in national report
  • Survey: Do voters want a new high school?
  • Howell clarification


MACOMB TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Unhappy with spending on such things as catered meals and fruit baskets, as well as the use of bond money to purchase land, two parents have asked state officials to look into Chippewa Valley Schools' finances, according to The Detroit News. In response, school officials told The News that while some may disagree with how the money was spent, all purchases were legal.

The district has a $130 million budget and spends about $3,600 annually on meals for those who attend meetings, as well as about $3,100 every two years to send fruit baskets to employees who experience a death in the family, school board President Henry Chiodini told The News. He also said that using bond money to purchase land for building trades projects was discussed with state officials prior to the purchase.

The parents, John Schmitz and Grace Caporuscio, called some spending wasteful and have sent several years' worth of receipts, among other documents, to state departments with a request for an investigation, according to The News. The request comes at the same time that the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has asked all Macomb County school districts to post their checkbook registers online for public review, The News reported. The Mackinac Center publishes Michigan Education Digest.

Kenneth Braun, director of the Mackinac Center's Transparency Project, told The News he had been particularly concerned with Chippewa Valley Schools, where two employees have been convicted of job-related theft in the past five years.

District officials plan to sit down with Caporuscio to address her concerns, Diane Blain, district spokeswoman, told The News.

The Detroit News, "Parents ask state to probe Chippewa Valley district," Jan. 13, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Transparency Project Director Asks Macomb County School Districts to Publish their Checkbook Registers," Jan. 6, 2009


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Opinions vary on whether a court ruling allowing Grand Rapids school bus drivers to continue to be represented by their public sector union — even after their jobs were outsourced — will "chill" a statewide trend toward privatization, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

A U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., has ruled that Dean Transportation, which hired the bus drivers in 2005, must bargain with the Grand Rapids Education Support Personnel Association over those drivers' pay and benefits, The Press reported. The question is whether the prospect of negotiating with Michigan Education Association affiliates like GRESPA will discourage other private companies from entering contracts to provide services to school districts, according to The Press.

"This is a statement to all the anti-union forces out there that the laws are going to be enforced and the people have a right to determine who will represent them," Buz Graeber, the bus driver's MEA representative, told The Press.

However, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy issued a press release saying the case does not automatically mean that all private companies would have to recognize existing school unions. The Mackinac Center publishes Michigan Education Digest.

Patrick J. Wright, Mackinac Center senior legal analyst, said the court did not address a key issue regarding workers' rights.

He said the question remains whether it is fair to presume that public employees who move into private sector jobs — and gain the right to strike — would still want to be represented by public sector unions.

"Michigan school boards and private contractors do not need to fear that privatization efforts will be undermined by a presumption that school unions will automatically continue to be involved in the provision of any privatized services," Wright said in the press release. "This decision does not prevent privatization as either a legal or practical matter."

Dean Transportation could appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to The Press. Owner Kellie Dean said the company is reviewing its options.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Key court ruling on unions backs Grand Rapids school bus drivers," Jan. 9, 2009

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School privatization should not be Hampered by Today's Federal Court Ruling on Grand Rapids Case," Jan. 9, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "Dean Transportation, MEA at odds over unions," Feb. 23, 2007


BATTLE CREEK, Mich. - The Urban League of Battle Creek is opening a small, private school this month to serve teens who have dropped out of, or been expelled from, traditional and alternative schools, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Focus Academy will enroll at most 14 students. Tuition is free, and the daily schedule will include exercise, group counseling and individualized academic work, the Enquirer reported.

"We're serving kids that other aspects of the community, for whatever reason, have chosen not to," Carlton Lartigue, a member of the Urban League's board of directors, told the Enquirer.

Urban League officials said that donors and community organizations supporting the school wished to remain anonymous, the Enquirer reported.

Kyra Sichinga, formerly with Battle Creek Public Schools and now managing director of the Urban League, will oversee the operation.

"This is really a holistic approach to education," she told the Enquirer. "We know it's not just going to be the classroom piece."

Battle Creek Enquirer, "Focus Academy to aid dropouts, expelled students," Jan. 8, 2009

Michigan Education Digest, "United Way starts program to curb dropout rates," Aug. 13, 2008


LANSING, Mich. - Michigan earned a C+ for K-12 education in a national report released this week, according to the Lansing State Journal. "Quality Counts 2009," the latest annual report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, said the average state grade was C, the Journal reported. No state received an A; Maryland received the highest scores.

"There is no state that is knocking it out of the ballpark," researcher Christopher Swanson said, the Journal reported.

Breaking down the report by subject area, Michigan received a B- in school finance, a C+ in students' chances for success, and a B in "transitions and alignment," which tracks education from early childhood through college preparation and work readiness, according to the Journal.

In previous years, "Quality Counts" also measured K-12 academic achievement, the teaching profession, and standards, assessments and accountability, the Journal reported, but the survey has now switched to an alternating-year format among categories.

Michigan's latest grades in those categories were D, D+ and A-, respectively.

"Michigan has worked hard and made standards and curriculum a major focus," Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Education, told the Journal.

The Lansing State Journal, "State's school grade edges U.S. average," Jan. 7, 2009

Michigan Education Digest, "Report: Michigan achievement, standards get mixed rankings," Jan. 15, 2008


BLISSFIELD, Mich. - In an effort to gauge community support for construction of a new high school,  Blissfield Community Schools is conducting both a random telephone poll and inviting voters to take an online survey, according to the (Adrian) Daily Telegram. Results will be presented to the school board this month, the Telegram reported.

The online survey is available at the district Web site until Jan. 9, open to registered voters only, according to the Telegram.

"Before we make any decisions on what to ask for, we'd like to know what people want - what they're thinking," Superintendent Scott Moellenberndt told the Telegram. The 50-year-old high school is deteriorating, but Moellenberndt has said it still could be used as a community center and the site of various public offices if a new high school is built, the Telegram reported.

The survey asks if residents would support new construction as well as increased property taxes to pay for the facility, according to the Telegram. The estimated cost is 3.33 mills for 30 years, or about $333 per year for the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000, the Telegram reported. Another option is to renovate the existing school at 2.28 mills over 30 years.

The Daily Telegram, "Input on high school sought," Dec. 11, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "Michigan's prevailing wage law forces schools to waste money," Dec. 13, 2001


An item in last week's Michigan Education Digest incorrectly stated, based on a media report, that Howell Public Schools faces a $3 million budget deficit. Howell is not in a deficit position. According to other media reports, the nearby Brighton

Area Schools anticipates becoming a deficit district this year.   

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), an online newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at

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