Contents of this issue:
  • Detroit Public Schools CEO outlines deficit solution

  • Benzie contract talks stall over health insurance costs

  • Study: Families' costs at Michigan public universities down since 1998

  • Congress reauthorizes federal special education law

  • Survey: Parents question MEAP's value

  • Two state universities reach record enrollment numbers

DETROIT — During an annual "State of the Schools" address last Thursday, Detroit Public Schools CEO Kenneth Burnley requested patience while the district straightens out its finances, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The district is facing a combined deficit from last year and this year of $198 million, which Burnley said could be alleviated through a $200 million bond sale, to be repaid over the next 15 years at $20 million per year. The bond sale would have to be approved by the state Legislature. According to Mike Griffith, a policy analyst with the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan think tank, no other district in the country faces such a proportionally large deficit.

Without the bond sale, said Burnley, the district may have to cut nearly 5,000 jobs and close up to 40 schools. "In my opinion, that would destroy the district," he said. "This is the best choice available."

Some Detroiters were skeptical of Burnley's plan after his announcement. "Burnley created this deficit. Lansing's takeover is what created the deficit. We went from a $100 million surplus to a $250 million deficit," Detroiter Shanta Driver told the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, "Be patient, Detroit school chief asks," Nov. 19, 2004

Detroit News, "Burnley wants to lean on state," Nov. 18, 2004

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

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 contract talks between Benzie Central employees and district administrators have stalled over the issue of sharing the cost of health insurance.

According to the Record Eagle, the cost of health insurance "has been a big issue in contract talks throughout the region, which continue for teachers in Bear Lake, Bellaire, Buckley, Central Lake, Harbor Springs, Forest Area, Gaylord, Kaleva Norman Dickson, Kalkaska, Leland, Mancelona, Manistee, Mesick, Onekama and Suttons Bay."

In Benzie, administrators have agreed to pay insurance costs of $13,056 per teacher annually. To maintain their current coverage under this proposal, teachers would have to pay an annual premium of $920. Alternatively, they could switch to another plan with fewer benefits that would cost them $80 annually.

The district's proposed spending cap is not unusual given the current health care market, according to David Hershey, a negotiator with the Michigan Association of School Boards. "This is a legitimate trend statewide and nationwide that employees share in the responsibility of health care and fringe benefits," Hershey told the Record Eagle.

Kathleen Betts, a representative of the Michigan Education Association, countered his claim, telling the Record Eagle, "I've seen it on a lot of tables, but we haven't agreed to it." The MEA reports that only two districts in the area have agreed to such caps.

Both administrators and union members in the Benzie district say they will not compromise. "The board of education is not asking for concessions," Superintendent David Micinski said, according to the Record Eagle. "We want a partnership with members of our staff to share the cost of health care."

Traverse City Record Eagle, "Benzie teachers, schools lock horns over health insurance," Nov. 18, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table," August 1998

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

LANSING, Mich. — Booth Newspapers reports that a study released last week found that the real cost to families of higher education at Michigan's 15 public universities has decreased since 1998.

The study, published by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, found that families, on average, pay about 45 percent of the official price of a college education at Michigan's public universities. "The cost students and families actually pay is significantly less than the state tuition figures would seem to indicate," Mike Boulus, executive director of the Council, told Booth.

According to the study, a 22 percent real hike in the schools' own grants and scholarships since 1998 is the major reason families now pay less in inflation-adjusted terms for their children's college education. (Loans were not included in the analysis.) University officials say they hope the report will encourage students who believe they cannot afford college to start applying again.

Booth Newspapers, "Surprise — families' costs for higher ed has gone down," Nov. 16, 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

DETROIT — Congress last Friday passed a bill reauthorizing part of the federal government's special education law. It is the first major legislative revision to the federal program in seven years, according to The Associated Press.

The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act passed the U.S. House and Senate with overwhelming majorities. President Bush was expected to sign the bill, according to the AP.

The proposed revisions to the act are attempts to make it easier for schools to take disorderly disabled children out of the classroom; to allow new teachers more flexibility in showing they are "highly qualified"; to identify disabled students more accurately; to discourage frivolous lawsuits against school districts; and to more forcefully ensure states' compliance with the act.

The AP quoted U.S. Rep. John Boehner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee: "We set out with one fundamental goal in mind. That was to improve the educational results for students with disabilities, and I believe we have accomplished that goal with the bill that we have before us today."

The bill also committed Congress by 2011 to pay for up to 40 percent of the additional costs of providing special education programs. The federal government currently pays less than 19 percent.

Detroit News, "Congress approves update of special education rules," Nov. 20, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Do Private Schools Serve Difficult-to-Educate Students?" October 1997

DETROIT — The Detroit Free Press reports that a survey of Midwestern parents released last week found that only 5 percent of those in Michigan said they understood the purpose of the state's Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests. Just 1 percent of Michigan parents believed that standardized tests were important measures of a student's education.

The survey was sponsored by the Lansing-based Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, whose members include National Education Association state affiliates. The survey included 639 Michigan parents and informed a larger study of parental attitudes in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. The results, Center director Teri Moblo told the Free Press, are not "'an indictment against high-stakes testing,' but they do indicate that 'parents do not understand the purpose of the MEAP.'"

Jeremy Hughes, chief academic officer for the Michigan Department of Education, told the Free Press that his department would like to improve its communications with parents and change MEAP reports so that parents receive more detailed information about their child's progress.

Detroit Free Press, "Parents are skeptical about MEAP, survey concludes," Nov. 17, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How Does the MEAP Measure Up?" December 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "POLICY BRIEF: Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" May 2002

SAGINAW, Mich. — Saginaw Valley State University and Central Michigan University report that their fall enrollment numbers and freshman class sizes reached record levels for their respective schools this year, according to The Saginaw News.

SVSU now has 1,200 first-year students, while CMU has 3,741. "We do a lot more recruiting across the state than we did just seven years ago," Robert Maurovich, SVSU vice president for student services and enrollment, told The News. CMU Executive Vice President and Provost Thomas A. Storch cited successful recruiting of transfer students, saying, "We are building partnerships with community colleges through agreements that encourage students to continue their education (at CMU) once they complete their (two-year) programs."

The University of Michigan and Michigan State University reported enrollment increases of several hundred students this year. In contrast, many state universities saw enrollment declines from 2002 to 2003, according to The News.

Saginaw News, "University enrollments reach record levels," Nov. 21, 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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