Contents of this issue:
  • Schools hold nearly $2 billion, fight aid cuts
  • School report card problems cost taxpayers millions
  • Superintendents skip seminar session for golf
  • Teachers' union organizer June Fieger dies at 79
  • Miami teachers' union chief sentenced to 27 months for misusing union money
  • IRS begins audit of nation's largest teachers' union

LANSING, Mich. — According to state figures, school districts around the state hold a total of $1.84 billion in reserve cash, which legislators are eyeing as part of a fix to the state's budget deficit.

School surplus accounts actually grew last year although many districts claimed state cuts hurt their ability to provide a quality education. "It makes it difficult for us to lobby legislators for additional funds for public education when they can look at us and say, 'that's why you have so many districts with so much money in the bank,'" Michigan Education Association president Lu Battaglieri told the Detroit News.

Districts that have the funds, however, don't wish to spend the money because the state is in a financial crunch. "Our district has worked hard to get the fund equity where it is so we can protect our programs," said Troy School District superintendent Janet Jopke. "The rainy day is here. We're in deficit spending now. So because we're so prudent, we're going to be penalized?"

Detroit News, "Schools bank $1.84 billion, still fight aid cuts," Nov. 21, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" August 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "2,948 Jobs Won't Be Created if State Income Tax Cut Delayed, State Economic Model Shows," Oct. 9, 2003

LANSING, Mich. — The state's new system of grading schools cost Michigan taxpayers millions while publishing faulty reports, forcing schools to appeal the letter grades given to different aspects of school administration.

Approximately 1,200 schools have appealed their grades, given by the state under the Education YES! rating system, which grades schools from A to failing on MEAP scores and other school functions. Schools received their grades in October, several months after they were supposed to be published.

Merging the data from MEAP scores, school performance ratings and other state agencies caused most of the delay. Government officials say the process will improve next year after wrinkles in the new system are ironed out. "This basically has to be written off as a trial run," David Plank, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, told the Detroit Free Press. "Unfortunately, it won't be, because there are real consequences attached."

Detroit Free Press, "Report card errors come at hefty price," Nov. 24, 2003

Michigan Education Report, "State superintendent launches plan to grade schools," Winter 2002

Michigan Education Report, "State Board of Education adopts school grading plan," Spring 2002

DETROIT, Mich. — An undercover news team discovered several Michigan superintendents skipping sessions at a taxpayer-funded statewide conference on improving Michigan schools — in order to play golf — while the students they govern were at work in their classrooms.

The keynote speaker of the event, which took place at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, said some superintendents were uninterested in the conference and wanted to play golf more than to attend workshop sessions. "The superintendents were more interested in playing golf than hearing from me," the speaker told a team from NBC affiliate WDIV Channel 4 news in Detroit. The news team asked for comments from the superintendents that decided to play golf and found most would not have golfed had they known the media were watching them. Ronald Davis, superintendent of Bangor Public Schools, replied, "I was invited to play golf, I took advantage of it, I attended meetings the rest of the time. Would I do it again? Probably, no."

Local 4, "Defenders Catch Superintendents Playing Hooky," Nov. 13, 2003

DETROIT, Mich. — Union organizer June Fieger, mother of former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and controversial attorney Geoffrey Fieger, died of cancer last Monday in Laguna Woods, Calif, her home since 1997.

Fieger became the first female organizer for the Michigan Federation of Teachers. According to Geoffrey Fieger, she led the nation's first teacher strike, in Hamtramck, in the 1960s. Mrs. Fieger later led teachers' strikes in Benton Harbor, Dearborn Heights, Oak Park, and in several other Michigan school districts. Teachers' strikes were then, and are today, illegal in Michigan.

The Michigan Education Association endorsed Fieger's son Geoffrey, well-known for representing many sensational defendants including euthanasia advocate Jack Kevorkian, for governor in his race against John Engler in 1998. Fieger was soundly defeated. Mrs. Fieger was honored earlier this month by the Pontiac School District with an award that will be given in her name every year to an outstanding teacher.

Detroit News, "June Fieger, Oak Park, organized first teachers' strike in U.S.," Nov. 20, 2003

Detroit Free Press, "June Fieger: Union leader fought for teachers' rights," Nov. 20, 2003

MIAMI, Fla. — A federal judge sentenced former United Teachers of Dade chief Pasquale "Pat" Tornillo, Jr. to 27 months in prison for working with other top union officials to steal $3.5 million from the union.

Under Tornillo's plea agreement, he will have to pay $800,000 in restitution to the union for misusing funds and lawyer fees. In addition, Tornillo owes about $360,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest.

Tornillo, 78, pled guilty of stealing union money to live a luxurious jet-setting life, complete with first-class hotels and South Pacific cruises. Because of his ailing health, the judge recommended Tornillo be placed in a low-security institution for the extent of his sentence.

Miami Herald, "Tornillo sentenced to 27 months in prison for misusing teachers union funds," Nov. 24, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teachers Unions: Helping or Hurting?"

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Due to allegations of illegal political spending, the IRS began investigating the National Education Association's finances to determine whether the nation's largest teachers' union is illegally helping political candidates.

Under federal law, tax-exempt organizations must list all political spending because some of it may be taxable. According to the IRS, a political expenditure is "one intended to influence the selection, nomination, election or appointment of anyone to a federal, state, or local public office." The NEA has not reported any such expenditures.

A 1993-1999 Associated Press report found numerous internal NEA memos detailing political strategies but found no reports of political spending on federal tax filings. Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, which prompted the IRS to perform the audit, told the Washington Post that, "It appears that the NEA may finally be called to account for its failure to tell the government — and its members — how much it is spending on politics."

Washington Post, "IRS Audits Nation's Top Teachers' Union," Nov. 24, 2003

Washington Times, "NEA's political spending investigated," Nov. 25, 2003

ABC News, "IRS audits nation's top teachers union," Nov. 25, 2003

Michigan Education Report, "Illegal Union Political Spending," Early Fall 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teachers: You Don't Have to Pay for Union Political Spending"

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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