Contents of this issue:

  • Teacher says she quit paying union dues on principle
  • State says school is failing; district says it isn’t
  • Bobb to propose splitting DPS
  • Custodian aims to fill board with privatization foes
  • Many can’t pass Army’s basic skills test

Teacher Says She Quit Paying Union Dues on Principle

GRAND RAPIDS — Nearly 100 teachers stopped paying union dues to the Grand Rapids Education Association once automatic payroll deductions were no longer in place, and the union sued five of them, according to The Grand Rapids Press. One teacher said she didn’t pay dues on principle, The Press reported.

Grand Rapids Public Schools typically collects dues on behalf of the union, but temporarily stopped doing so for parts of 2008 and 2009 during contentious contract negotiations, The Press reported. During that time teachers were supposed to pay the dues on their own, the report said, but a union official said that nearly 100 did not.

One case ended recently when an elementary teacher agreed to pay $100 a month to the GREA toward $980 in back dues, The Press reported. Marjorie Hayward, who teaches children with autism, said she quit paying dues because the union failed to represent her and other members accurately, The Press reported.

"This was something I needed to do based on principle, in hopes of things happening differently in the future," Hayward said after a court hearing, The Press reported. "My biggest concern at the time was their (GREA) insistence of wanting more money and benefits when everyone else in the state was having to make do with less because of the economy."

Tim Nendorf, a Michigan Education Association Uniserv director who represented the union, said that four other teachers were taken to court, but settled, and that 90 more owe back dues.

The Grand Rapids Press, “Grand Rapids teacher sued by union over dues says group failed to represent her accurately,” Jan. 6, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “August in Michigan is Teacher Freedom Month,” Aug. 3, 2010

State Says School is Failing; District Says it Isn’t

FERNDALE, Mich. — Ferndale Public Schools Superintendent Gary Meier says that he is respectfully refusing to follow state orders to restructure the district’s University High School and replace its staff, because district officials believe the school’s current reform model is succeeding, according to The Oakland Press.

The district developed University High School five years ago with a focus on preparing urban students for college, according to The Press.  While data show that nearly 100 percent of the school’s graduates go on to college, the school is considered a “persistently failing high school” because of low test scores, The Press reported. The school is under state mandate to restructure itself according to one of four specific models, The Press reported.

Meier said the failure is mainly related to low math scores among students taking the Michigan Merit Exam last spring, and points to the college enrollment data as evidence the existing model is working, according to The Press.

Restructuring would require the district to replace the school principal and teachers who were hired specifically to design and implement the program, The Press reported.

Meier told The Press he hopes to work with the Michigan Department of Education toward a waiver that would give University High School more time to boost math and reading scores.

Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for the office of state school Superintendent Mike Flanagan, told The Press that the state guidelines are based on federal rules and that “neither currently allow for any alternative models for school reform.”

The Oakland Press, “Ferndale Univ. high school fights state’s mandate to restructure,” Jan. 6, 2010

Michigan Education Digest, “Buena Vista on ‘restructure’ list,” May 24, 2010

Bobb to Propose Splitting DPS

DETROIT — A plan to split Detroit Public Schools into two districts as a way of resolving a $327 million budget deficit is one of several fiscal options that emergency financial manager Robert Bobb will present to state officials in coming weeks, according to The Detroit News.

The plan would load all of the debt onto an “old” district of about 9,000 students, while creating a “new” district with the remaining 75,000 students and a financially clean slate, officials told The News. The debt would be paid with state revenue, the report said.

Spokesman Steve Wasko told The News that the plan is not unlike the restructuring done by General Motors Co. and that, “In our hearts and minds, we can’t cut our way out of this without decimating the district.”

The plan is one of several ideas Bobb will present to state officials in coming weeks as part of a deficit reduction plan.

Another option is to pursue legislation that would use $400 million in future tobacco settlement dollars toward the DPS deficit as well as deficits in other districts, The News reported. Yet another idea is shifting to a Louisiana-style system of charter schools, the report said.

The Detroit News, “Bobb plan would split DPS to solve its debt,” Jan. 6, 2011

Michigan Education Report, “No free lunch for failing schools,” Dec. 3, 2010

Custodian Aims to Fill Board with Privatization Foes

DURAND, Mich. — A school custodian who was elected to the Durand school board told The Flint Journal that two of his goals are to fill the board with privatization opponents and cut central office costs. One school association official told The Journal that a growing number of private contract employees are being elected to school boards.

Paul Mayers has been a custodian in the district since 1995, according to The Journal. Until 2009 he was employed directly by the district, but that year Durand Area Schools outsourced its custodial services to Professional Contract Management Inc., which is now Mayers’ employer. Mayers was elected to the school board in May 2010.

Privatization saved the district $190,000 that year alone, Superintendent Cindy Weber told The Journal, and was part of a larger budget-cutting plan that also included consolidating teacher and administrator positions.

Mayers still makes $16 an hour, The Journal reported, but he told the newspaper that he now works second shift instead of first and that the custodians do not receive as many benefits as previously.

Mayers said he hopes to fill the board in future elections with enough anti-privatization members to prevent any further outsourcing, The Journal reported.

The number of contract employees being elected to school boards in Michigan has grown in recent years as more districts have privatized services to save money, Brad Banasik, legal counsel for the Michigan Association of School Boards, told The Journal.

The Flint Journal, “Laid-off janitor now on Durand board sets goal: Cleaning up school officials' pay,” Jan. 6, 2011

Michigan Capitol Confidential, “School Union Brags of Ballot Box Revenge Against Outsourcing,” May 12, 2010

Michigan Capitol Confidential, “State Pension Funds: Evidence of Public Class’s Overcompensation,” Oct. 30, 2010

Many Can’t Pass Army’s Basic Skills Test

MIAMI (AP) — More than 20 percent of all Michigan high school graduates who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam, and the number rises to nearly 43 percent among African American students, according to a new national study, The Associated Press reported.

Nationally, nearly 23 percent of all applicants could not pass the Army’s basic math, science and reading test in the years 2004 to 2009, the study reported. The failure rate among whites was 16.4 percent; Hispanics, 29.1 percent; and African Americans, 38.7 percent, according to The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based children’s advocacy group.

Michigan’s corresponding failure rates were: 20.5 percent overall; 16.3 percent among white applicants; 24.4 percent among Hispanic applicants, and 42.7 percent among African American applicants, the study reported. The total number of Michigan applicants was about 11,000.

The failure rate among African American students in Michigan was sixth highest in the nation, according to the report.

The pool of applicants already is limited, according to AP. Pentagon data shows that 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don't qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn't graduate high school, AP reported.

The Associated Press, “AP News Break: Nearly 1 in 4 fails military exam,” Dec. 21, 2010

The Education Trust, “Shut Out of the Military: Today’s High School Education Doesn’t Mean You’re Ready for Today’s Army,” 2010.

Michigan Education Digest, “Schools shouldn’t use race, poverty as excuse,” April 30, 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