Contents of this issue:

  • State raises bar on MEAP, wants same for accreditation
  • More school buildings up for sale
  • Bobb asks for help on ‘bond security’
  • Bills would repeal tenure, limit step pay
  • Dearborn Heights Virtual Academy reports mixed results

State Raises Bar on MEAP, Wants Same for Accreditation

LANSING, Mich. — State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says he is not jumping the gun on a new school accreditation system without approval from the Michigan Legislature, as a group of school districts has charged, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The Middle Cities Education Association has filed suit to prevent the Michigan Department of Education from implementing a plan that the association said would result in about 20 percent of schools in the state losing accreditation, according to the Free Press.

The state board of education approved the plan, but state law requires the department to get approval from the House and Senate education committees, the Free Press reported. The association said that guidelines on the changes have already been sent to schools, but Flanagan said no implementation has begun. He said he believes the committees will approve the plan, the Free Press reported.

The plan would change the system to one relying more heavily on standardized test scores and would no longer give schools credit for self-evaluation on a number of school-related factors, the Free Press reported. Complicating the issue, the state board of education last week agreed to raise “cut scores” on Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests, meaning students must earn higher scores to be considered proficient.

State officials said that Michigan needed to raise the bar in order to give the public a more realistic picture of school performance and to be sure students are ready for college and careers, the Free Press reported. School officials said the changes should be phased in over time rather than beginning in 2011-2012, as planned.

Detroit Free Press, "State schools to seek approval for new accreditation rules," Feb. 8, 2011

Detroit Free Press, "State raises bar on tests to prepare kids for college, careers," Feb. 9, 2011

Michigan Capitol Confidential, “State Gives Failing Schools Perfect Grades for Paperwork,” Aug. 27, 2010

More School Buildings Up for Sale

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A glut of closed school buildings are part of the real estate mix in the Grand Rapids area, but finding buyers is proving difficult, school officials told The Grand Rapids Press.

Eleven buildings in four public school districts are up for sale, The Press reported. The empty buildings are expensive to maintain; Grand Rapids Public Schools spends $30,000 to $40,000 annually on its empty schools, of which five are on the market, according to the report.

Grand Rapids city planner Suzanne Schultz said it can be hard to find uses compatible with the single-family neighborhoods where most of the schools are located, The Press reported. The families that live around vacant schools told The Press that they would like to see the buildings used rather than fall into disrepair.

Other former schools have been used for housing, nonprofit organizations and churches, The Press reported. Another issue is whether to accept low bids for the sake of bringing money into the district; Grand Rapids received a $1.6 million offer for three schools, about $500,000 lower than the listed price, The Press reported.

The Grand Rapids Press, “Why school districts are struggling to sell vacant buildings,” Feb. 13, 2011

Michigan Education Report, “Schools for sale,” Aug. 15, 2007

Bobb Asks for Help on ‘Bond Security’

LANSING, Mich. — Detroit Public Schools wants state help to reassure lenders that the district is not headed for bankruptcy, a move that might help DPS secure better terms when it borrows money and pays off debt, according to The Associated Press.

Robert Bobb, the district’s emergency financial manager, asked the education committees of the House and Senate to approve “bond security” legislation, according to AP. He said the district wants to borrow $219 million in March and that failure to adopt the plan would boost its annual debt service payments from $22 million to about $39 million a year, AP reported in an article posted at Mlive.

Details on how the state would provide such assurance were not clear, according to AP. Bobb said the provision would not shift the district’s debt to the state.

AP reported that both Democrats and Republican members of the committee expressed skepticism.

“There’s got to be a lot of risk, or you wouldn’t be here asking for it,” said state Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, according to AP.

DPS has a $327 million budget deficit that Bobb said would have been more than $500 million if not for cost-cutting measures he put in place as emergency manager, AP reported.

The Associated Press, “Robert Bobb seeks state help for Detroit Public Schools but says new plan ‘won’t cost one dime,’” Feb. 9, 2011

Michigan Education Report, “No Free Lunch for Failing Schools,” Dec. 3, 2010

Bills Would Repeal Tenure, Limit Step Pay

LANSING, Mich. — Legislation that would repeal Michigan’s teacher tenure law, limit automatic step pay increases and require public employees to pay 20 to 25 percent of their health care benefit costs all were introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives in recent weeks.

The bills were reported at MichiganVotes.org, the legislative tracking service of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Mackinac Center also publishes Michigan Education Digest.

Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, introduced House Bill 4241 on Feb. 10, which would repeal Michigan’s teacher tenure law. Critics say the law makes it too difficult to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom. The bill was referred to the House Education Committee.

In other education matters, House Bill 4152 would establish that when a contract between a school district and an employee union has expired, employees would not receive step pay increases until a new contract has been negotiated.  Also, any increase in health benefit costs during the negotiating period would be paid by the employees. Rep. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, introduced the legislation on Jan. 26, and it is has been referred to the House Education Committee.

Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica, introduced legislation to require government employees, including school district employees, to contribute at least 25 percent to the cost of a family health care plan and 20 percent toward an individual plan provided by the employer. House Bill 4172 was referred to the House Government Operations Committee.

Michigan Votes, House Bill 4172 (Mandate 20 percent government employee health benefit contribution), Feb. 1, 2011

House Bill 4241 (Repeal “teacher tenure” law), Feb. 10, 2011

House Bill 4152 (Limit certain automatic government union employee pay hikes), Jan. 26, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “A Teacher Quality Primer: Reforming Teacher Tenure Practices,” June 30, 2008

Dearborn Heights Virtual Academy reports mixed results

DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. — The online academy in Dearborn Heights School District 7 is a financial success, but not all students are succeeding academically, according to the (Southgate) Press & Guide.

Of the 45 students enrolled in Dearborn Heights Virtual Academy in its first term, 11 passed all courses, 17 passed at least two courses, seven failed and others dropped out or were asked to leave, the Press & Guide reported. The national average pass rate in online education is 47 percent, director Lynn Wietecha told the board, according to the Press & Guide.

Failing students generally logged on for less than three hours a day, though the recommended time is five hours, Wietecha said, according to the Press & Guide. They also struggled with reading and some need math tutoring.

“Online learning isn’t for everyone. It’s hard,” Wietecha said, the Press & Guide reported. Six of the passing students had never before passed a high school course.

Financially, the district received nearly $330,000 in state reimbursements of $7,316 per student for the program, but anticipates spending only $197,000 for the year, Wietecha told the board, according to the Press & Guide.

(Southgate) Press & Guide, “Heights Virtual Academy a financial success,” Feb. 8, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Virtual Learning in Michigan’s Schools,” Jan. 27, 2011

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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