Contents of this issue:

  • Health care contribution bills sent to conference committee
  • Supreme Court: Schools can’t collect PAC money for MEA
  • Ann Arbor to ask voters for technology millage
  • Pay-to-play moves beyond sports
  • Insurance switch said to save teacher jobs in Ovid-Elsie

Health care contribution bills sent to conference committee

LANSING, Mich. — A conference committee will attempt to resolve the differences between House and Senate proposals that would require public employees to pay more toward their health insurance costs, according to an Associated Press report.

The Senate proposal would require public workers to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, while the House plan would cap the dollar amount that a public employer can pay toward health insurance for each employee, according to the report, which was posted at the WILX-TV10 website.

The House plan also would allow local governments and school boards to switch from a dollar cap to a 20 percent contribution requirement from employees, AP reported.

WILX-TV10, “Public Employee Health Care Bills Going to Conference Committee,” July 13, 2011

MichiganVotes, “2011 Senate Bill 7: Mandate 20 percent government employee health benefit contribution”

Supreme Court: Schools Can’t Collect PAC Money for MEA

LANSING, Mich. — Vacating an earlier decision, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled recently that Michigan public school districts may not administer payroll deduction plans that funnel money to the Michigan Education Association political action committee, according to the published court opinion and a report at a National School Board Association legal website.

The court ruled 4-3 that administering the plans constitutes a contribution of public resources to a political objective, which violates the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, the opinion said.

That is true even if the MEA reimburses the district for the cost to administer the plan, the report said.

The Supreme Court had ruled in December 2010 that such arrangements did not violate the campaign finance law, but state officials asked for a rehearing, which led to the new decision.

In the new opinion, justices called the previous Court’s treatment of the case both “dilatory” and “accelerated,” the NSBA report said. That apparently was a reference to the fact that the earlier decision came on the previous court’s last business day of 2010, which was after the November elections but before two newly elected members were seated.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case, arguing that state law prohibits school districts from administering payroll deduction plans for the benefit of union political accounts. The Mackinac Center also publishes Michigan Education Digest.

National School Board Association Legal Clips, “Michigan Supreme Court reverses its previous holding that payroll deduction system for employees’ contribution to teachers union PAC violates the Michigan Campaign Finance Act”
Michigan Supreme Court, “Opinion: Michigan Education Association v. Secretary of State,” June 30, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Mackinac Center Amicus Curiae Brief to Michigan Supreme Court in Michigan Education Association v. Michigan Secretary of State”

Ann Arbor to Ask Voters for Technology Millage

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ann Arbor Public Schools will ask district voters to approve a new 0.5 mill tax in November for technology upgrades, according to a report at AnnArbor.com

The district completed the first phase of a hardware update in 2009, using bond money, but it does not have funds to complete the second phase, according to Robert Allen, deputy superintendent of operations, AnnArbor.com reported. He said the district will need $30.8 million over 10 years to replace outdated technology.

Trustees voted unanimously to direct the superintendent to proceed with placing a request on the ballot, though the details are not final, AnnArbor.com reported. The board has until Aug. 16 to submit official wording for the ballot, the report said.

Trustees discussed whether it was advisable to ask for a tax increase in view of the state’s economic downturn, and also discussed how a November vote might affect future millage requests, should the district decide to return to the voters within the next year, AnnArbor.com reported.

SOURCES: AnnArbor.com, “Ann Arbor schools to seek 0.5 mill tax for technology upgrades,” July 14, 2011

FURTHER READING: Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Common School Funding Myths”

Pay-to-Play Moves Beyond Sports

MEDINA, Ohio — Pay-to-play is becoming popular not just in school sports, but also in K-12 academic programs, according to The Wall Street Journal. Public school districts around the country are making up budget overspending by charging students to enroll in certain classes or to cover the cost of textbooks or lab supplies, the report said.

One family on Medina, Ohio, paid a total of nearly $4,500 for its three children to participate in sports and band and to take Spanish and earth science classes, The Journal reported.

Some high schools also are charging registration, technology and “instructional” fees, according to The Journal.

Public officials say that the fees allow them to continue offering extracurricular activities and specialty classes, The Journal reported.

While most state constitutions include provisions for free public education, many qualify it by saying students are entitled to “suitable” or “adequate” publicly funded services, The Journal reported.

SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal, “Public schools charge kids for basics, frills,” May 25, 2011

FURTHER READING: Michigan Capitol Confidential, “Big Coaching Salary Bumps at Schools Hiking ‘Pay-to-Play’ Fees,” June 16, 2011

Insurance Switch OK’d in Ovid-Elsie

ELSIE, Mich. — Switching to a new insurance carrier will save as much as $338,000 in Ovid-Elsie Area Schools and help avoid teacher layoffs, according to a report in The (Owosso) Argus-Press.

Coverage will remain the same, but the health insurance plan for teachers now will be administered by SET SEG rather than the Michigan Education Special Services Association, The Argus-Press reported. District administrators and other staff switched to SET SEG several years ago, according to the report.

Superintendent Ryan Cunningham said that two reasons for the lower rates are options for self-funding, health savings accounts and higher deductibles, and also significant demographic changes among employees due to 13 retirements last year, The Argus-Press reported.

The switch will help the district qualify for up to $173,000 in “best practice” incentive funds from the state, according to The Argus-Press.

“It was the best thing to do. It was obvious we were saving the school a ton of money,” Ovid-Elsie teachers union President Doug Long told The Argue-Press.

SOURCES: The (Owosso) Argus-Press, “O-E shaves deficit with insurance change,” June 27, 2011

FURTHER READING: Michigan Capitol Confidential, “Extra K-12 Cash to Be Tied to Mandatory Health Care Cost Sharing and Other Reforms,” May 22, 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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