Contents of this issue:

  • Grand Rapids bus contract up in air
  • Whitehall teachers sign three-year pact
  • Clerks: School elections waste money
  • Parents pin hopes on charter school lottery
  • Some question 'Race' judging
  • Cox: Schools can publish some photos, video


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - After one member asked to switch his vote, a school board finance committee in Grand Rapids Public Schools recommended against extending the district's contract with a private bus company, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

Calling it a surprise decision, The Press reported that Superintendent Bernard Taylor now is urging the full board to overturn the committee recommendation, saying Dean Transportation has saved the district more than $19 million over the past five years.

The district's contract with Dean expires June 30, The Press reported. School officials said the district predicted savings of $18.3 million when it privatized busing in 2005, but the actual figure is $19.7 million, The Press reported. Both figures include $5.5 million from the one-time sale of school buses to Dean.

During the finance committee meeting, members Tony Baker and Jane Gietzen initially voted in favor of a five-year contract extension, after which the Rev. Kenneth Hoskins voted against, The Press reported. After Hoskins said that he was philosophically opposed to privatization of public school services, Baker asked to switch his vote, according to The Press.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Unusual voting process leads to Grand Rapids school committee's recommendation," March 29, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Savings From Privatization," Jan. 16, 2009


WHITEHALL, Mich. - Whitehall District Schools teachers have ratified a three-year contract that gives them a 1 percent raise in the third year and also moves them to a less-expensive health insurance plan, The Muskegon Chronicle reported.

Teachers will receive step increases in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, but the salary schedule itself will not increase, according to The Chronicle. In 2011-2012, the schedule will increase by 1 percent. Also this year, teachers and students will receive an additional day and a half off, The Chronicle reported.

Beginning in May, teachers will shift from the Michigan Education Special Services Association's Super Care I health plan to Choices II, a preferred provider plan with lower premiums, according to The Chronicle.

MESSA is a third-party insurance administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association that sells Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance packages to a majority of Michigan public school districts.

The district could have saved 14 percent on health insurance premiums if the switch had been made for the current school year, The Chronicle reported. Future savings aren't yet known, Superintendent Darlene Dongvillo told The Chronicle.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Whitehall teachers get new 3-year contract," March 29, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Most School Health Care Plans Are Too Expensive For Michigan," Feb. 10, 2010


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A coalition of Michigan county clerks is pushing to eliminate May school board elections, claiming they are a waste of money, given the typically low voter turnout, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

Rather than paying for separate elections, clerks said that school districts could save money by adding their trustee races to the primary or general elections already held in August or November, The Press reported.

A coalition of lawmakers has introduced legislation to mandate such a change, and the Senate Fiscal Agency has estimated the shift could save $7 million per election cycle, according to The Press. Schools could continue to hold bond or millage elections at other times.

Opponents said that the school board race would get "lost" among all the other municipal, state and federal races on the general election ballot, The Press reported.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Should school board elections be moved to coincide with regular elections?" March 30, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Tracking union money in school board elections," November 14, 2007


YPSILANTI, Mich. - Dozens of parents filled the metal bleachers at South Arbor Academy recently, all waiting to find out if their children will gain admission to the popular charter public school, according to Michigan Education Report and a video published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

As required by law, South Arbor conducted a random drawing of names to fill the vacant seats at each grade level and to place the remaining applicants in order on a waiting list, the report said.

Kindergarten is the most-sought after spot. The school has 77 seats available for fall, but about 51 of those will be taken by siblings of students who already are enrolled. That left only 26 seats to be filled by lottery, out of 206 applicants, according to Education Report.

Similar drawings take place at charter public schools across the state each spring; the estimated combined waiting list is approximately 12,000 students, according to the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, the report said.

Michigan Education Report is an online education journal published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which also publishes Michigan Education Digest.

Michigan Education Report, "Parents pin hopes on charter school lottery," March 30, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Golden Ticket," March 30, 2010


NEW YORK - Michael Flanagan, Michigan's state superintendent of public instruction, was among state officials who questioned the process by which Race to the Top winners were picked, though he said he was satisfied by federal officials' explanation, according to a New York Times report.

The Times reported that many states have asked why Secretary of Education Arne Duncan awarded money to only Delaware and Tennessee out of 41 applicants.

Some governors and education leaders say their states might not pursue the second round of funding, especially now that the federal government has capped the amount each state can receive, The Times reported.

The Times reported that one reviewer scored Michigan's application far lower than four other reviewers, leading Flanagan to question the scoring process. Flanagan was told that "outlier" scores were investigated to make sure they represented the reviewer's sincere opinion and were not a mistake, The Times reported.

"In fairness, I think the feds had a good explanation," Flanagan said, according to The Times.

Like Michigan, California adopted new education laws as a way to strengthen its application, but the scoring criteria didn't give credit for that action, a state official there said, The Times reported. 

The New York Times, "States Skeptical About 'Race to Top' School Aid Contest," April 4, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Fighting for School Reforms — Against Whom?" March 8, 2010


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Public school districts may use certain photos and videos of students without written parental consent, as long as parents had been told that such materials were considered "directory information" and were given the chance to deny permission, according to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported.

In a recent opinion, Cox wrote that such material may be considered "directory information" under federal privacy laws, the Record-Eagle reported. Some districts use student images in television advertisements, brochures or at school Web sites, according to the Record-Eagle.

Districts are only responsible for use of photographs or videos that they maintain themselves, the opinion states, according to the Record-Eagle. The opinion says that "maintain" means that the school district keeps or preserves the material.

Administrators told the Record-Eagle that they had questions about cases in which school-affiliated groups, such as parent- teacher organizations, used student photos at social networking sites such as Facebook. They also questioned if schools had any responsibility in cases when parents or visitors filmed a school event and posted it on a Web site not affiliated with schools.

Traverse City Record-Eagle, "A.G. opinion impacts students' images," April 6, 2010

State of Michigan, Attorney General Mike Cox, "Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Opinion No. 7425, March 29, 2010"

Michigan Education Report, "The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act," Sept. 13, 2000

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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