(EDITOR'S NOTE: Michigan Education Digest will not publish on Tuesday, Dec. 28, and Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Weekly publication will resume on Jan. 11, 2011.)

Contents of this issue:

  • Lawsuit says contract barring privatization is illegal
  • Christmas giving fills school buses
  • More federal money for K-12 called unlikely
  • Ann Arbor brings tenure charges against two teachers
  • Study: Worst schools stay open

Lawsuit Says Contract Barring Privatization is Illegal

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Residents who joined a lawsuit against 10 West Michigan public school districts say they were motivated by wasteful school spending, while a superintendent called the lawsuit “frivolous,” The Grand Rapids Press reported.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed suit on behalf of five Kent County taxpayers against nine local districts, the Kent Intermediate School District and the Kent County Education Association, The Press reported.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation is a public-interest law firm within the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Mackinac Center also publishes Michigan Education Digest.

The lawsuit claims that the groups entered into labor contracts that illegally included a ban on privatizing school services, The Press reported. Privatization could save the districts up to $6.9 million, Patrick Wright, the legal foundation director, said at a press conference announcing the suit, according to The Press.

"The union and those districts knew it was against the law to include the no privatizing language in the contracts and still did it," said Gail Schuiling, a Grand Rapids retiree who is part of the lawsuit. "I am very, very tired of my tax dollars not being used properly. There is a time when people have to stand up for what's right and be brave."

Kevin Konarska, superintendent of the Kent Intermediate School District, said the contracts did save money by requiring union members to contribute financially to their health care premiums for the first time, as well as agreeing to a salary freeze.

"This is a landmark agreement we thought we would be getting accolades for, not sued," Konarska told The Press. He said that all parties involved knew that the contract provision against privatization wasn’t enforceable.

The Grand Rapids Press, “Residents sick of wasteful spending join Mackinac Center lawsuit against Kent County school districts,” Dec. 15, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Jurrians v. KISD.”

Christmas Giving Fills School Buses

PORT HURON, Mich. — Port Huron area residents filled two school buses with toys, food, clothing and other items earlier this month on behalf of a local service agency, according to The (Port Huron) Times Herald.

The buses were stationed at two local Kroger stores for the first-time event, which was coordinated by volunteer teachers, bus drivers, students and other school district employees.

We're getting other ideas for next year to make it bigger and better each year," Port Huron Education Association President Chad Mannlein told The Herald.

The (Port Huron) Times Herald, "School buses fill with donations," Dec. 12, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Political Society vs. Civil Society," July 9, 2010

More Federal Money for K-12 Called Unlikely

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, pulled a $1.2 trillion spending bill off the floor of the U.S. Senate last week, extra money for K-12 public schools went with it ? at least for now, according to an analysis by Education Week.

Facing a showdown over earmarks, Reid pulled the measure on Thursday, according to Education Week.

The bill covered the majority of federal government programs, including education. Within it was a second round of money for “Investing in Innovation,” a grant program intended to scale up promising school practices, as well as a new fund to improve early childhood education, the report said. Those may never be funded if incoming conservative lawmakers carry through on a pledge to curtail federal spending, according to Education Week.

Federal funding for K-12 programs now is likely to be flat for the coming year, although advocates had pushed for more Title I money for disadvantaged children as well as increased special education funds, Education Week reported.

Education Week, “Senate Pulls Spending Bill with Money for Early Ed, i3,” Dec. 17, 2010 (Subscription required)

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “How School Funding Works: Myths about Michigan’s Foundation Allowance,” May 12, 2010

Ann Arbor Pursues Tenure Charges Against Two Teachers

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ann Arbor Public Schools wants to fire a high school orchestra teacher for an allegedly inappropriate relationship with a student, AnnArbor.com reported. The board voted recently to levy tenure charges against the teacher and also to move forward on tenure charges a former elementary school teacher, though little about the second case was discussed, according to AnnArbor.com.

The orchestra teacher, Chris Mark, 45, will remain on paid leave until the Michigan Teacher Tenure Commission hears the case, according to AnnArbor.com. The student involved in the case graduated in 2005 and is now his girlfriend, AnnArbor.com reported.

In an earlier report, AnnArbor.com cited an e-mail from Mark to the student which the district characterized as a “love letter,” but which Mark’s attorney said was an effort to reach out to a troubled student. The attorney asked the board to find middle ground between firing Mark and doing nothing, AnnArbor.com reported.

The district also voted to continue to pursue tenure charges against an elementary teacher who has been on leave since last year; the district declined further comment on that case, AnnArbor.com reported.

AnnArbor.com, “Huron High School orchestra teacher's relationship with former student basis for possible tenure charges, document shows,” Dec. 15, 2010

AnnArbor.com, “Ann Arbor school board pursues tenure charges to fire popular Huron High School orchestra teacher,” Dec. 16, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Don’t Tenure Current Teacher Tenure Law,” Dec. 7, 2010

Study: Worst Schools Stay Open

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Most low-performing public schools ? including charter and conventional schools in Michigan ? rarely improve and rarely close, according to a Detroit Free Press report on a new national study.

Michigan was among 10 states studied by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, for its report titled “Are Bad Schools Immortal?”

The study found that "low performance is remarkably stubborn" in Michigan, the Free Press reported, despite provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind Act that allow school closure as a consequence for poor performance.

In 2003-04, about 37 percent of Michigan's charter schools were designated as low-performing on state tests, compared to 7 percent of traditional public schools, the Free Press reported. In 2008-09, among the previously identified charters, 75 percent were still doing badly, while 10 percent had closed. Among low-performing conventional public schools, 90 percent still lagged behind and 5 percent had closed.

Detroit Free Press, “Poor Michigan schools staying open, study finds,” Dec. 15, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “New Research Suggests 'Reforming' Rather Than Closing Failing Schools a Forlorn Hope,” March 23, 2010

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 med@educationreport.org

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