Contents of this issue:

  • Merit pay takes center stage
  • Huron Valley taking bids
  • Catholic school will market itself
  • Muskegon debates athlete GPA
  • DPS predicts payroll shortage


DETROIT - Merit pay is likely to come under more consideration in Michigan schools in the coming year due to public support from President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, according to the Detroit Free Press.

In contrast to paying teachers based on seniority and education, merit pay is linked to teacher performance, typically measured by how well students do academically, the Free Press reported.

At least three Michigan districts have some form of merit pay, according to the Free Press, and report mostly positive results.

"The public supports paying teachers on the basis of performance," Thomas Toch, co-director of Education Sector, an independent think tank, told the Free Press. "They believe that there are good teachers and bad teachers and they want to do anything that increases the number of good teachers."

Union representatives, however, say there is no conclusive evidence that incentive plans work, the Free Press reported, and some teachers believe they foster unhealthy competition.

"That's pitting professional against professional," Michael Fields, a third-grade teacher in Au Gres-Sims Public Schools, told the Free Press. His district has an incentive pay plan that rewards the entire staff in a given school.

Michigan Education Association spokesman Doug Pratt told the Free Press that the union is not universally opposed to merit pay. Teachers want to be judged on multiple measures, not student test scores alone, the Free Press reported.

The Detroit Free Press, "Can merit pay for Michigan teachers boost student performance?" Feb. 16, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A Merit-Pay Pilot Program for Michigan Public Schools," Sept. 23, 2008


HIGHLAND, Mich. - Saying it can no longer afford the benefit package offered to some support employees, Huron Valley Schools is exploring outsourcing its transportation and food service operations, according to The Oakland Press.

The district has gone out for bids while also continuing contract negotiations with its bus drivers, food service workers and assorted transportation employees, The Press reported. The workers in November rejected a tentative agreement reached through mediation.

Janet Roberts, director of community relations for the district, told The Press that the tentative agreement would have reduced the number of paid days off. Workers currently receive nine holidays, 10 vacation days, 10 sick days, two personal days, five bereavement days and two snow days. Bus drivers at the top of the pay scale earn $16.45 an hour, and the district pays $15,777 annually for health care coverage for each worker's family, Roberts said.

"We wanted them to give up a portion of the paid days they do not work," Roberts told The Press. The union representative was not available for comment, but bus driver Deborah Fisher told The Press that the agreement also would have eliminated optical and dental coverage.

Fisher said support employees have stayed at the same wage level for the past year in order to protect their jobs while administrators received a pay increase and some also receive car allowances, the Press reported. She called the bidding process a scare tactic.

The Oakland Press, "Huron Valley seeks to replace embattled service workers," Feb. 13, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy Michigan School Databases, "Master Agreement between the Huron Valley Schools and the Huron Valley Support Service Professionals," Feb. 15, 2008


SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. - Officials at St. Basil Catholic School plan an aggressive marketing and fundraising campaign to boost enrollment and improve revenue at the school, according to the (Benton Harbor) Herald Palladium.

In operation for nearly 60 years, the school has seen enrollment decline from 200 students in 1994 to 100 this year, according to the Herald Palladium. St. Basil Catholic Church, which normally allocates $150,000 for the school, gave $240,000 this year, the Herald Palladium reported.

"It is a fight for survival," Jim Marcoux, a member of the St. Basil Strong Foundation campaign, told the Herald Palladium, but added that he is optimistic the school will remain open.

The school plans to market itself to parents of young children and those looking for an alternative to public schools, the Herald Palladium reported. It also may implement before- and after-school care, raise tuition, mount a capital campaign and add technology-based programs to the curriculum.

"Thirty percent of our students are non-Catholic," Marcoux told the Herald Palladium. "We don't have this school just for its Catholic education. It offers people a choice in educating their students. Our MEAP (Michigan Education Assessment Program) scores are typically higher than area public schools. People send their children here for our strong curriculum, discipline and Christian-based programs."

The (Benton Harbor) Herald Palladium, "School fights to stay open," Feb. 11, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "Catholic schools and the common good," Aug. 16, 2005


MUSKEGON, Mich. - It would cost an additional $50,000 in tutoring to keep all Muskegon High School athletes eligible to play if the district required them to carry a 2.0 grade point average, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

A committee of the school board tabled a policy that would have set the minimum athlete GPA at 2.0, The Chronicle said, expressing concerns that the district can't afford it.

Superintendent Colin Armstrong has said the district will need to cut $6 million from its budget next year.

"Should we be implementing something we can't afford to implement?" board Vice President Kevin Donovan asked at a committee meeting, according to The Chronicle.

The minimum GPA originally was proposed by board trustee Charles Nash, who has said that current policy fails athletes by allowing them to earn four D-minus grades and flunk two other classes and still play sports, The Chronicle reported. Muskegon and most local schools follow Michigan High School Athletic Association rules that require a student to earn 20 credit hours — or pass about four classes — the previous semester of school, the report said.

Muskegon offers extra tutoring already in the form of after-school help, summer school and credit recovery classes, but those costs would be doubled if the minimum GPA took effect, according to The Chronicle.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Proposed minimum GPA for Muskegon High School athletes tabled," Feb. 11, 2009

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


DETROIT - Detroit Public Schools won't be able to make payroll as of March 17 unless it arranges a loan or works out a new payment plan with employees, according to the Detroit Free Press.

According to financial reports filed with the state, the district expects to be short by $21.6 million in March and millions more in May and June, the Free Press reported. The reports also show an additional $42 million in overdue bills as of Jan. 29, including $9.2 million that the district has not paid to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, according to the article.

To cover the bills, the district could take out a loan from a bank or from a state borrowing pool, request expedited state aid payments or work with unions on a new pay schedule, according to the Free Press.

Mattie Majors, spokeswoman for the district, told the Free Press that officials are not sure how the problem will be resolved.

Emergency financial manager Robert Bobb is expected to begin his oversight role in the district on March 2, the Free Press reported.

In August, unions in the district agreed to be paid one day later than scheduled to allow DPS to avoid taking out a loan to cover payroll, according to the Free Press. That reportedly saved DPS $1 million.

"People are not going to work for free," said Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

The Detroit Free Press, "DPS may need payday loans," Feb. 10, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "First class or 21st century? Don't pass up chance to reform Detroit Public Schools," July 14, 2008

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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