Contents of this issue:
  • District employees may choose child's school district

  • Institute uncovers teachers union's questionable promises to members

  • Judge orders Ann Arbor schools to pay legal fees in free speech case

  • Kentwood pact pits newer teachers against experienced teachers

  • Former assistant principal runs from law in sexual misconduct case

  • Detroit's 'Proposal E' a matter of contention among voters

  • Traverse City district to receive federal obesity grant

DETROIT — State legislation passed this summer allows a district to admit an employee's children even if the employee lives in another district and the employing district does not accept students under the state's schools-of-choice program or has already filled its schools-of- choice openings.

The new law, Public Act 227, was sponsored by state Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, and some districts, such as Livonia and Romulus, are now offering their staff the opportunity to enroll their out-of-district children, according to The Detroit News.

"The biggest dilemma a teacher always has is the balance between the school family and the personal family, and this allows them to blend those two things," Romulus district spokesman Richard Kruse told the News.

Southfield district spokesman Ken Siver said the new law is helpful in providing better benefits to teachers and other district employees. "I think the (Southfield) school board is receptive to this. It's an employee benefit, like in the sense that health insurance is a benefit," he said.

But some have voiced opposition to the law, saying it unfairly benefits school employees and could lead to new costs for taxpayers. Rose Bogaert of the Wayne County Taxpayers Association told the News: "Now we've got preferential treatment and nepotism. The volume would be significant if a lot of teachers chose to take advantage of that. Are (the school employees) going to add additional classrooms if the number of students exceeds (available space)?"

Detroit News, "School workers can choose kids' district," Sept. 26, 2004

MichiganVotes.org, 2004 Public Act 227

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Freeing to Choose," October 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Fewer Students = More Money?" October 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 2000

GOLDEN, Colo. — A Colorado research institute has reported its discovery last week that a local teachers union had told its members they would receive graduate school credit for participating in an Oct. 9 union rally and literature drop. The institute also reported that the college that was allegedly going to provide the credit never agreed to do so.

The Golden, Colo.-based Independence Institute said Pamela Benigno, director of its Education Policy Center, found that the Jefferson County Education Association told members that they would receive graduate school class credit at Adams State College in Alamosa for attending a three- to four-hour union political rally conducted in support of two Democratic state senators and a school funding initiative. To receive credit, members were also expected to hand out political literature. But Adams State College Trustee Chair Peggy Lamm reportedly told the institute, "Adams State College never approved credit for this event, nor did we intend to."

"It's inappropriate, to say the least, that a teachers union would offer academic credit as a way to entice teachers to promote the union's political agenda — and in the process cheapen the value of academic credit," said Benigno.

Independence Institute, "Education Policy Director Exposes Teachers' Union's False Promises," Oct. 1, 2004

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

Michigan Education Report, "School Unions Shortchange Students," Spring 1999

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Ann Arbor News has reported that a federal judge earlier this month ordered the Ann Arbor Public Schools to pay legal fees for a student who sued the district for violating her right to free speech.

The suit originated in July 2002 after the district denied Betsy Hansen, a senior at Pioneer High School during the 2001-2002 school year, the opportunity during the school's "Diversity Week" to place on a "Homosexuality and Religion" panel an adult representative who believed that homosexual activity is a sin according to the Bible. In addition, Hansen claimed that the school censored portions of a speech she made during the week.

U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Rosen found in Hansen's favor in 2003, writing that the case "presents the ironic and unfortunate paradox of a public high school celebrating 'diversity' by refusing to permit the presentation to students of an 'unwelcomed' viewpoint on the topic of homosexuality and religion, while actively promoting the competing view."

The judge's 2003 ruling also ordered the district to pay damages, legal fees and other expenses to the law firm representing Hansen. The Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center submitted a petition for costs of $124,632, but the district contested that amount. Judge Rosen's ruling finalized the total reimbursement amount at $102,738, which the district must now pay. The district has already spent nearly $300,000 on its own defense attorneys, according to the News.

Ann Arbor News, "Schools ordered to pay legal fees," Oct. 3, 2004 http://www.mlive.com/news/aanews/index.ssf?/base/news-10/ 109679859553120.xml

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A tentative pact reached last week between the Kentwood district and local union officials may avert a possible employee strike, but could divide less-experienced teachers and senior teachers over future pay raise opportunities, according to the Grand Rapids Press.

Under the agreement, the district would retain full financial responsibility for paying employee health insurance to an insurance provider preferred by the local union. The provider, known as MESSA, was originally founded by the Michigan Education Association.

Teachers, in turn, would make concessions over future "step-pay" increases, which are given annually to reward experience. Based on data from the last contract in 2000, lost step pay for teachers with less than 12 years of experience would reportedly be $1,000 to $2,400 per year. But teachers with more than 12 years of experience would lose as little as $350 per year.

"Every contract is unique," MEA spokeswoman Margaret Trimer-Hartley told the Press. "But frequently our members have sacrificed wages in order to protect their health benefits."

The dual pay-increase schedule apparently has created tension among teachers. Educators speaking anonymously to the Press said they want to see an analysis comparing reduced pay over future years to the cost of health insurance, as well as the impact of the reduced pay on retirement programs, which are based on overall earnings.

Parent Peggy Leven said she believes the pact protects an expensive union health insurance relationship at the expense of teachers, and she argued that the tentative solution will not last long. "When it comes up again in 18 months, we'll be in the same boat," said Leven.

Grand Rapids Press, "Contract divides teachers by experience," Oct. 10, 2004 http://www.mlive.com/news/grpress/index.ssf?/base/news-17/ 1097403510316020.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A New Day for Michigan Schools," April 1995

Michigan Education Report, "Detroit Teachers Illegally Strike," Fall 1999

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Analyst Says: Close Teacher Strike Loophole That Allowed Anti-Charter School Protest," October 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Failure of Anti-Strike Law to Deter Teachers Calls for New Measures, Analyst Says," September 1999

DETROIT — A former assistant principal at Pontiac Central High School in Pontiac is on the run after police filed two charges against him, including second-degree sexual conduct, according to The Detroit News. Kevin Fowlkes resigned his position last Wednesday as police filed the charges. Detectives reportedly say now that they cannot find Fowlkes. "I think he knew the writing was on the wall," said Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca. "We're asking that he turn himself in." Police filed charges after learning of allegations that Fowlkes last week exploited a teenage boy who was spending the night at his house while the boy's mother was out of town. Later, police discovered that similar allegations had been made against Fowlkes in Dayton, Ohio, where he had previously worked, although no charges had been filed there. "One of the issues looming is whether or not the Pontiac School District was aware of those allegations," Gorcyca told the News. "We're subpoenaing the records (in Dayton). Depending on what we find, someone will have a tremendous amount of explaining to do."

Detroit News, "Police hunt former principal in sex case," Oct. 7, 2004

DETROIT — The battle over voters in Detroit's 'Proposal E' debate has heated up as the election draws closer, with the two opposing groups in the controversy spending a combined total of millions of dollars to entice voters to support their point of view, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Under a 1999 state-mandated restructuring of the Detroit school district, voters must decide this year how the district will be run in the future. During the past five years, the mayor of Detroit was given authority to appoint school board members. A "Yes" vote on Proposal E would provide the mayor with a continuing role in the district, allowing him to nominate or fire a "chief executive officer" who would have control over district expenditures. A nine-member elected board would approve the mayor's selection for CEO or be able to fire the executive by majority vote with the mayor's approval.

A "No" vote against the proposal would restore the district to the governance format in place before the 1999 reforms, with a traditional, elected school board maintaining sole power over hiring a superintendent and the district's expenditures.

Helen Moore, legal chair for the Keep the Vote-No Takeover Coalition, told the Free Press that a "yes" vote would hinder citizen control of the district. "We want our right to vote back, period," she said. But supporters like Paul Hillegonds, head of the nonprofit, business-supported Detroit Renaissance, said schools have improved in the last five years, and this will help retain the tax base that is necessary to support the district. "The improvement of Detroit schools is critically important to retaining residents and tax base in the city, and to attracting employers who need educated employees to make their business work," Hillegonds told the Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, "Proposal E | Control at stake," Oct. 8, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Compromise Gives Archer Control of Detroit Schools," Spring 1999

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Detroit's Reform School Board Would Be Wise to Privatize," June 1999

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The U.S. Department of Education will give the Traverse City Area School District a nearly $1 million grant over three years in order to fight student obesity, according to the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Program organizers hope the grant will work to reduce the obesity rate in the area's students. Studies show that one in three students in the Traverse City district is either overweight or at serious risk of being overweight. "Michigan is the third fattest state in the U.S.," Pat Lewallen, the district's director of special programs, told the Record-Eagle. "We're a mirror image of the state."

Only Mississippi and West Virginia have higher rates of obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though the program is still being designed, it will be aimed at healthy eating and exercise habits, especially considering that 40 percent of Traverse City students do not meet basic standards for cardio-respiratory endurance. "We want to make the very best possible use of the little time we have the children in physical education," said Lewallen. "It's really aimed at health and well-being, and physical fitness is of course a key element to that."

The federal Department of Education provides the grant to schools and community organizations through the No Child Left Behind Act. The department will reportedly distribute $69 million to 237 institutions.

Traverse City Record-Eagle, "Grant targets students' battle of bulge," Oct. 7, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Would You Like Taxes with That?" July 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Federal 'Anti-Fat' Bill Nothing But Meddlesome Pork," August 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Candy Police," November 2003

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

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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