Contents of this issue:

  • EMU faculty balk at Detroit school work
  • Charter school saves on pensions, retains jobs
  • Group sues over emergency manager law
  • Howell keeps MESSA, teachers to pay more
  • Court removes injunction against privatization

EMU Faculty Balk at Detroit School Work

YPSILANTI, Mich. — Faculty leaders at Eastern Michigan University say they won’t assist in any Detroit Public Schools reform measures that might affect union contracts, the Detroit Free Press reported. 

EMU was named last week as a partner in a makeover plan to remove the worst-performing schools from Detroit Public Schools’ control and put them into a newly created Education Achievement System school district, the Free Press reported.

Roy Roberts, DPS emergency manager, will lead the new district, and EMU and a number of civic organizations have been tapped to assist, according to the Free Press.

But unions don’t like the fact that, as emergency manager, Roberts has the authority to nullify or amend union contracts in DPS, The Free Press reported.

EMU President Susan Martin said no faculty would be assigned to work in a school in Detroit, but union leaders were skeptical, according to the Free Press. A press release on the university’s website said EMU could be involved in such things as running a laboratory school or offering technical or educational services.

“We won't have our membership involved in breaking union contracts,” said Howard Bunsis, the treasurer of the EMU faculty union, according to the Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, “Eastern Michigan faculty side with teachers’ unions, say they weren’t consulted,” June 22, 2011

Eastern Michigan University, “Eastern Michigan University to help address failing schools as part of Governor Snyder's plan,” June 20, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Bring parental choice to Detroit Public Schools,” December 17, 2009

Charter School Saves on Pensions, Retains Jobs

LESLIE, Mich. — White Pine Academy has saved money and jobs by opting out of the state retirement plan for school employees, the principal told The Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Principal Jared Vickers said that the 3 percent match that the academy contributed to its employees’ 401(k) retirement plans this year represented a $700,000 savings over what it would have paid if its staff were in the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, The Citizen Patriot reported. That has allowed the school to keep 18 full-time employees, the report said.

Next year the academy will not offer any matching contributions, due to budget reductions, though in the past the match has been as high as about 7 percent, Vickers told The Citizen Patriot.

The academy approach lines up with the findings in a report issued last week by the Fordham Institute, which said that about 72 percent of Michigan public charter schools do not participate in MPSERS, mainly due to the plan’s high cost.

“With the current state of our economy, I think we need to look at what are some other options we can offer our employees,” Vickers told the Citizen Patriot.

The Jackson Citizen Patriot, “Charter school principal: Offering 401(k) instead of state pension has saved jobs,” June 22, 2011

Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “Charting a New Course to Retirement: How Charter Schools Handle Teacher Pensions,” June 22, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Study: State Employee Pension Reform Has Saved Taxpayers Estimated $2.3 Billion to $4.3 Billion in Unfunded Pension Liability,” June 23, 2011

Group Sues over Emergency Manager Law

LANSING, Mich. — A lawsuit seeking to undo Michigan’s emergency financial manager law has been filed in Ingham County Circuit Court, the fourth challenge to the measure since it was passed in March, according to media reports.

The 28 plaintiffs in the latest suit allege that the revised law is an unconstitutional “power grab,” the Michigan Information & Research Service Inc. reported.

The law gives appointed managers greater authority to reform financially troubled cities and school districts, including the power to amend existing union contracts, MIRS reported. The law does not allow managers to remove elected officials from office, according to MIRS.

Regarding its constitutionality, Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, the bill’s sponsor, pointed out that the state has had an emergency manager law on the books since 1990, MIRS reported.

An attorney with Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, which filed the suit, said that the plaintiffs would be satisfied to revert to the previous version, MIRS reported.

This is the second lawsuit challenging the law, and two petition drives are under way to repeal it, according to the Lansing State Journal.

Michigan Information & Research Service Inc., “Lawsuit Filed to Overturn Emergency Manager Law,” June 22, 2011 (Subscription required)

Lansing State Journal, “New suit challenges Michigan’s emergency manager law,” June 23, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Acts of God,” April 20, 2011

Howell Keeps MESSA, Teachers to Pay More

HOWELL, Mich. — Teachers in Howell Public Schools will contribute $3,000 a year to their health coverage rather than switch to a different carrier, the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus reported.

Based on price quotes collected from other carriers, the district determined it could have saved about $1 million by switching away from the Michigan Education Special Services Association plan, district officials said, according to the Press & Argus. However, Howell Education Association members said they would make up the difference through contributions, the Press & Argus reported.

MESSA is affiliated with the Michigan Education Association; the rates it charges in Howell will increase by 14 percent in 2011-2012, the Press & Argus reported. The article did not include a dollar figure on the district’s share of the cost.

School board trustee Kim Witt said the teachers’ union has helped in the switch to a seven-period school day that is projected to save the district $1 million next year, the Press & Argus reported. That move, coupled with declining enrollment, has led the district to cut 26 staff positions, according to a separate Press & Argus report.

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, “Howell district lays off 26 staffers in bid to save $1.43 million,” June 22, 2011

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, “Howell shops, keeps teachers’ coverage,” June 21, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Common School Funding Myths,” Sept. 7, 2010

Court removes injunction against privatization

WOODHAVEN, Mich. — The Woodhaven-Brownstown School District was expected to move forward with privatizing custodial and maintenance services after the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s granting of an injunction against the plan, The Detroit News reported.

School trustees voted last fall to outsource the services at an estimated savings of $1.7 million, according to The News. Twenty-eight workers were laid off, and their union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, The News reported.

A circuit court granted a preliminary injunction against the privatization, but the appeals court ruled that move was improper, according to The News.

The News could not reach union President Chad Smith for comment, it reported.

The Detroit News, “Court rules in favor of school district,” June 20, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Public School Privatization Increases 8 Percent in Michigan,” Sept. 10, 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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