Contents of this issue:
  • Holland School Board unanimously privatizes custodial services

  • Traverse City dispute over insurance premiums ends with contract

  • Groups form coalition to change No Child Left Behind Act

  • Michigan state senator says state education funding has risen

  • California plans Spanish-language academic tests for NCLB

  • Study: Indiana's university system needs overhaul

HOLLAND, Mich. — The Holland School Board last night voted unanimously to privatize custodial services, approving a three-year agreement with Grand Rapids Building Services, according to the Holland Sentinel. The decision is expected to save the district at least $500,000 annually.

After the district announced that it might privatize some positions, local union representatives contacted the Michigan Education Association. "When the school district told us they were going to privatize costs here and were only going to give us a week to come up with concessions, we called MEA and told them we had a critical situation and we'd like an investigation," Paul Kirschner, a regional MEA official, told the Sentinel. In response, the MEA added the Holland Public Schools support workers to its "critical list."

Prior to the decision to privatize, the school board had discussed cost-cutting proposals from the Holland Education Support Personnel Association, the union representing the custodial workers. Kirschner told the Sentinel that HESPA had offered $475,000 in concessions, but Assistant Superintendent Jim Sullivan described the offers as impracticable.

At the board meeting last night, emotional pleas from a crowd of nearly 200 people failed to convince the board that it should forgo private contracting. "I needed to hear some convincing things tonight that would tell me not to vote yes. I didn't hear it," Board President Bob Carlson told the Sentinel. "The economics are too substantial to ignore."

The decision will save the district an estimated $500,000 to $700,000 annually in employee salaries and benefits, according to Sullivan. The district has been losing students in recent years, and district officials had projected a $2.5 million budget deficit by June 2006.

After the vote, Board Trustee Kevin Clark told the Sentinel, "We have heard for an hour and 45 minutes the personal hurt and pain of the community. But we're going to have to think about not only today, and the current condition of the school district — we're going to have to think of the years to come."

Holland Sentinel, "Board OKs job cuts," Nov. 2, 2004

Holland Sentinel, "School workers put on 'critical' list," Oct. 28, 2004

Michigan Privatization Report, "Substituting the Private for the Public," February 2000

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

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Traverse City Record Eagle reports that the Traverse City Area Public Schools District has approved a three-year contract for its teachers. The agreement represents a compromise over how much the district should pay for teacher health insurance premiums.

According to Christine Davis, a district official, the contract stipulates that teachers will not have to pay for their health insurance premiums until at least October 2005. The insurance provider will continue to be MESSA, a firm originally established by the Michigan Education Association, but teachers will be switched from MESSA's "Supercare I" insurance program to MESSA's "Choices II," a preferred provider plan. The district expects to save money with the new insurance plan.

"It's mutually beneficial," Davis told the Record Eagle. "We're pleased to get a change in the type of insurance, but we also feel it will be a good change for our employees."

The contract includes at least two items for future negotiation: an October 2005 reconsideration of insurance payments, and a decision over pay raises in the third year of the contract. The contract calls for pay increases of 1.5 percent per year in its first two years.

Traverse City Record Eagle, "Teachers get break on health insurance," Oct. 28, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "MESSA: Keeping school districts from saving money on health care," Summer 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MEA Abuses Public School Health Care Funds," Aug. 7, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," November 1993

Michigan Privatization Report, "Ensuring Insurance Competition," September 1998

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Education Week reports that 25 education, civil rights and other groups announced last month they were forming a coalition to push for major changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The act was signed into law in 2002 to mandate standardized student testing in all 50 states and to tie federal monies to schools' performance on these tests.

The new coalition said the law needs to change its focus. "Overall, the law's emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement," the group wrote in a statement quoted by Education Week. Coalition members include the American Association of School Administrators, the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders and the National Education Association.

U.S. Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey responded to Education Week's request for a comment about the new coalition by writing, "Schools across the nation are making real improvement and we're going to continue on this course."

Just a few weeks earlier, a five-group coalition called the Achievement Alliance had formed to support the No Child Left Behind Act. The Alliance, which included the Business Roundtable and the Education Trust, reportedly described the act as the "nation's best chance" to improve the U.S. school system.

Education Week, "Groups Offer Changes for School Law," Oct. 27, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "President signs 'No Child Left Behind Act,'" Winter 2002

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Fall 2002

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. — State Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, last week noted that funding to local districts has increased this year, according to The St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.

State Sen. Jelinek referred to this year's state per-pupil allotment of $6,700, which he said is an increase over the amount provided in the previous two years. He was addressing attendees of an event sponsored by the Berrien/Cass School Boards Association and the Berrien County Intermediate School District.

"We understand some of you are making cuts because a dollar just doesn't go as far," Jelinek reportedly said. "But K-12 funding has not gone down. What we need to do is get things moving so people are earning money and spending money instead of (the Legislature) raising taxes."

Jelinek said several tax proposals to help finance education were being considered by the governor: tougher enforcement of taxes due on second homes; higher taxes on mobile home owners; and new sales taxes on services and entertainment.

Herald-Palladium, "Jelinek says school funding hasn't fallen," Oct. 26, 2004

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Eliminate Intermediate School Districts," August 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Recommendations to Strengthen Civil Society and Balance Michigan's State Budget - 2nd Edition," May 2004

LOS ANGELES — The Associated Press reports that California state officials plan to let school students take standardized state academic tests in Spanish as part of the achievement assessment for the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Currently, state law requires that all tests be given in English. A 1998 citizens initiative also requires classes to be taught in English unless parents sign a waiver. Some educators argue that these rules put certain schools at a disadvantage in meeting federal NCLB requirements by making it hard for Spanish-speaking students to pass the tests.

"Students don't learn at the same rate and in the same way, so we can't just be expected to provide cookie-cutter education," said Bob Dittman, principal of a Modesto-area elementary school with many Hispanic students. "Hold me accountable, but hold me accountable for what we have control over."

The AP reports that students in Texas can take standardized academic tests in Spanish for as many as three years as part of an NCLB assessment. Linda Lownes, a consultant for the California Department of Education, said the new tests will not replace English-language tests, but may be administered in tandem with them. She told the AP that no decision has been made about whether the Spanish-language tests will be considered in meeting the NCLB requirements, stating, "There's a lot that's still being worked out."

Associated Press, "California may test in Spanish to cope with No Child Left Behind," Oct. 30, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Public school eases immigrant's transition," Spring 2001

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Fall 2002

Michigan Education Report, "President signs 'No Child Left Behind Act,'" Winter 2002

INDIANAPOLIS — A review of Indiana's higher education system will conclude that several changes are needed to improve the quality of the state's universities and community colleges, according to the Indianapolis Star.

The report is being prepared by the higher education panel of the state's Government Efficiency Task Force, a group appointed by the state Legislature. The panel's findings are being informed by work done by a consulting firm and will be published on Nov. 11.

The Star states the report will suggest that Indiana and Purdue Universities become more selective in undergraduate admissions, while increasing their graduate enrollment and research capabilities. The report will further recommend that undergraduate enrollment be increased at Ball State, Indiana State and the University of Southern Indiana. The high number of undergraduates at Indiana University and Purdue make providing education more expensive for the state, said Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Stan Jones, according to the Star.

Indiana University and Purdue need to obtain more monies through research programs and "almost become more privatized," said Panel Chairman Thomas Reilly. But IU Trustee Steve Ferguson told the Star that increasing graduate enrollment at his institution would be more expensive because graduate students are more costly to teach.

Several lawmakers said they would discuss the merits of the study's findings. "Whether this is exactly the right approach, I don't know," said state Rep. Jeff Espich. "But government can always stand an in-depth review, particularly by the private sector."

Indianapolis Star, "Study: Overhaul university system," Oct. 29, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private Prepaid Tuition Programs Can Help Make College Affordable," September 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Competition among Professors Would Help Parents Afford College," August 1999

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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