Contents of this issue:

  • Bobb proposes converting 41 schools to charters
  • Senator: Schools should tap rainy day funds
  • Schools debate Facebook conduct policies
  • Graduation rates don’t tell whole story
  • House passes pay-freeze bill

Bobb Proposes Converting 41 Schools to Charters

DETROIT — A plan to save money and boost achievement by converting 41 Detroit schools to charter operations may become a battle between unionized teachers and the plan’s supporters, according to media reports.

Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, said the new school leaders would have hiring autonomy and that their teachers would not be covered under the current union contract, the Free Press and Wall Street Journal reported.

Charter school operators told the Free Press that such autonomy would be critical to success, but Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said any removal of teachers from the current contract would be illegal, the Journal reported.

District spokesman Steve Wasko told the Journal that pension costs were a major financial reason for the proposal.

Jose Fonso, an executive with SABIS Educational Systems, told the News that the company is interested in working in Detroit, but that, "you can't have high expectations for folks and then not give them the freedom and flexibility to achieve those expectations."

SABIS operates nine charter schools in Michigan, including the award-winning International Academy of Flint.

Doug Ross, chief executive officer of New Urban Learning, said the district needs to close poorly performing schools, the Free Press reported, and that he would lean toward turning over the entire district to charter organizers.

Detroit Free Press, "Charter operators: Autonomy is key," March 13, 2011

Wall Street Journal, “Detroit plan makes big charter school bet,” March 14, 2011

Michigan Education Report, “Can School Choice Work in Detroit?” Feb. 4, 2011

Senator: Schools Should Tap ‘Rainy Day Funds’

LANSING, Mich. — A state Senator wants to refuse any more state aid to public school districts that have saved up too much money, according to The Detroit News.

Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, said he would introduce legislation to cap “rainy day funds” in each district at an amount equal to 15 percent of a district’s annual operating expenditures, The News reported. Districts with more savings would have to spend it down before receiving further state funding, the report said.

The Senate Fiscal Agency calculated that public school districts have approximately $1.6 billion in “surplus” funds statewide, The News reported. The amount varies widely ? some schools are in a deficit position — but approximately 300 districts would be affected, according to The News.

Brandenburg said school districts should not amass savings while also complaining about budget cuts, but critics told The News that school districts should not be punished for being frugal. They also said that rainy day funds are needed for unexpected expenses and to tide districts over during gaps between state aid payments.

The Michigan School Business Officials organization recommends a 15 to 20 percent fund balance, The News reported. A representative from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office told The News that one concern is whether the plan would be a one-time fix of the sort the governor is trying to avoid, The News reported.

The Detroit News, “State senator targets Michigan school districts with flush rainy day funds,” March 10, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Proposal would punish prudent school districts,” April 1, 2010

Schools Debate Facebook Conduct Policies

MUSKEGON, Mich. — School districts in Michigan are debating whether and how to demand a certain decorum from teachers and other staff on social media sites without infringing on the employees' free speech rights, The Muskegon Chronicle reported.

In Reeths-Puffer Public Schools, for example, a proposed policy would allow disciplining of staff who post photos that advocate alcohol use, The Chronicle reported. It also would prohibit teachers from having students as "friends" on social network sites without advance approval from the district, the report said.

Court cases have been brought by teachers who say online restrictions amount to a violation of their free speech rights, Brad Banasik, legal counsel for the Michigan Association of School Boards, told The Chronicle.

Teachers need to expect public scrutiny that comes with the job, Banasik told The Chronicle. “For better or for worse teachers have to understand they are in the public eye.”

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Teachers' Facebook pages face scrutiny in Reeths-Puffer," March 12, 2011

Michigan Education Digest, "Superintendent: Teacher behavior 'deplorable,'"Oct. 16, 2009

Graduation rates don't tell whole story

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Michigan’s 2010 high school graduation rate was about 76 percent, counting only those students who enrolled in 2006 and completed high school within four years, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported as part of a larger look at graduation rate data.

About 11 percent of the potential 2010 graduates dropped out and the rest were continuing on in high school, the report said.

The lowest graduation rates are found in alternative education programs and high-poverty urban schools, the Gazette reported. Even within the same district, a conventional high school may have a high graduation rate while the district’s alternative program has very low rates, according to the Gazette.

For example, in the Clintondale School District in Macomb County, the graduation rate at Clintondale High School is 80 percent, while the graduation rate at the alternative education program is 4 percent, the report said. The alternative education program is larger than the regular high school, the Gazette reported.

For the Class of 2009, Hartford High School in Van Buren County had a four-year graduation rate of 54 percent, which improved to 90 percent in 2010.

In the intervening year, the district created an alternative education program, the Gazette reported. That program had a graduation rate of zero last year, according to the report, and the district’s overall rate stayed about the same in both years.

The Kalamazoo Gazette, “School Zone Blog: Graduation and Dropout Rates for Michigan’s Class of 2010,” March 13, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Graduation Rates an Imperfect Measure of School Excellence,” Jan. 7, 2002

House Passes Pay-Freeze Bill

LANSING — The state House of Representatives passed legislation last week that would freeze teachers’ salaries and benefit levels during contract negotiations, according to the Michigan Information & Research Service Inc.

Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, argued that House Bill 4152 was unconstitutional because the Civil Service Commission has authority in such matters, MIRS reported.

But House Education Committee Chairman Paul Scott, R-Grand Rapids, said, “When a contract is over, it’s over. That’s all this bill certifies. ... There’s no constitutional right to a pay increase after a contract expires.”

Michigan Information & Research Service Inc., “Pay freeze during negotiations bill passes,” March 10, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Common School Funding Myths,” Sept. 7, 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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