Contents of this issue:
  • State superintendent resigns post after political scuffle

  • Detroit Public Schools does not renew CEO's contract

  • Shelby district ponders cost-saving "trimester" system

  • School boards organization urges hiring superintendents from within

  • Granholm, legislators may propose increase in state school aid

  • State may drop most MEAP essay questions in effort to save millions

  • Walled Lake achieves federal AYP after state corrects computations

DETROIT — Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins resigned last weekend following public pressure from Gov. Jennifer Granholm, according to The Detroit News.

The state Board of Education was expected to fire Watkins in a meeting scheduled for Saturday, but Board President Kathleen Straus announced Watkins' resignation before the meeting took place. Board Member John Austin told The News that the state did not buy out Watkins' contract, and that "we have a tangible commitment from Tom to resign on a date certain."

The board will probably name an interim superintendent as early as this week. Gov. Granholm has not indicated publicly whom she would prefer as Watkins' successor. "The governor realizes that's the responsibility of the board," said Straus.

Granholm and Watkins exchanged pointed public comments earlier this month over Watkins' job performance, though the state Board of Education, not the governor, holds the power to hire and fire the state superintendent.

The Detroit News, "Watkins quits schools post," Jan. 30, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Lansing Must Embrace Basic Reform Following the Watkins Debacle," January 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Watkins Gets It Right," January 2005

DETROIT — The board of the Detroit Public Schools last week decided not to extend district Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Burnley's contract, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Nevertheless, Burnley is being considered as a candidate for an interim CEO position to lead the transition from the current state-imposed, mayor-appointed school board to a traditional, elected board. Burnley has indicated he would consider the interim position, a reversal of his earlier unwillingness to submit to a public interview to keep his post.

Board President Bill Brooks said the decision not to extend Burnley's current contract beyond June 30 was not a reflection on Burnley himself. "This was about the contract. We weren't voting on Burnley tonight," Brooks asserted, according to the Free Press. Board Attorney Jerome Watson reportedly advised the board that because any CEO employed in the coming school year would have to navigate the transition between two different school boards with different sets of powers, a new CEO contract should be "crafted to fit this new position."

The district currently faces a $150 million deficit and a $48 million shortfall left over from last year, according to the Free Press. The district has until Feb. 4 to file a financial plan to eliminate its deficit.

Detroit Free Press, "Contract's not extended but Burnley is not out," Jan. 26, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The $200 Million Question," January 2005

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Choice in Michigan: A Primer for Freedom in Education: Lack of Incentives Produces Poor Results and Exacerbates Problems," July 1999

MUSKEGON, Mich. — School officials in the Shelby school district are considering switching the district's high school to a "trimester" system in order to cut costs in the 2005-2006 school year, according to the Muskegon Chronicle.

A trimester plan would involve three 12-week academic sessions, instead of two 18-week semesters. The trimester system typically involves a longer school day, and according to the Chronicle, Shelby Superintendent Dana McGrew said teachers would be responsible for four to five course sections under the system, instead of the current three to four. McGrew told the Chronicle that this increase in the instruction load would mean fewer teachers would be needed, helping decrease the district's payroll.

The Shelby district has a budget of about $17 million, and McGrew said he plans to trim expenses by $1.4 million next year, an amount roughly equal to the district's projected budget shortfall this year. To cover this shortfall, the district will draw down part of its current fund equity of $5.5 million.

The Chronicle attributed the district's need for cutbacks to "stagnant state aid and increasing costs, especially those related to retirement and insurance."

Muskegon Chronicle, "School district considers 'trimester' for cost savings," Jan. 25, 2005

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

DETROIT — The Michigan Association of School Boards is recommending that school districts forgo wide-ranging searches for new superintendents and instead consider hiring qualified administrators within their own district, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Free Press noted that promoting staff from inside a district to the superintendent's position is a "means of eliminating costly searches and keeping quality administrators from leaving" the district. Carl Hartman, head of local superintendent searches for the MASB, told the Free Press: "What we're saying is if you have a quality internal candidate that knows the district, knows the community and knows the staff — and if they are qualified — then I hire them. I say that to every board I work with."

The Lake Orion school board recently decided to promote its superintendent from within the district to save money and retain local talent. Similarly, Fitzgerald Public Schools in Warren reportedly always hires its new superintendents from within its district. "What's worked out very well for most of them is that they started off as teachers and worked their way up the ranks," Fitzgerald Board President Jack Kennedy told the Free Press.

Michigan school districts had to replace almost 60 superintendents in the 2003-2004 school year, and at least 50 superintendents have announced their intention to retire this year. "We're definitely in a leadership void right now, and I think people are definitely looking for the best candidate, and if they're internal, then so be it," Hartman told the Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, "School districts urged to try something new: Hire leader from within," Jan. 31, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Minneapolis Public Schools Teach a Lesson in Privatization," November 1998

LANSING, Mich. — The Lansing State Journal reported that state legislators and Gov. Jennifer Granholm may increase the minimum per-pupil state school grant in fiscal 2006, given state predictions of higher state tax revenues for education.

State fiscal experts reportedly expect a $400 million increase in state tax revenue for education in the upcoming budget year, and this growth could permit an increase of $34 to $200 in the state per-pupil grant, depending on how much of the revenue the state Legislature actually allots to schools. Gov. Granholm will present her state budget recommendations Feb. 10, and she is considering preliminary proposals to increase per-pupil funding by $100 to $150, according to The Journal.

Technically, the minimum per-pupil grant from the state has been $6,700 for the past three years, but The Journal reported that schools actually received less than that amount until this year. School districts have reportedly said they will need a $150 per-student increase next year to cover the mounting costs of teacher retirement and health benefits.

The Lansing State Journal, "State considers school aid increase," Jan. 31, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan at the Crossroads," Jan. 31, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's Budget Challenge"

PONTIAC, Mich. — The Oakland Press reported that the Michigan Department of Education may drop most essay questions from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests in an effort to cut millions of dollars from the state's testing administration budget.

Removing essays from the MEAP tests in subjects other than writing would reduce the cost of administering the tests by about $7 million, according to The Press. The department must cut $10 million from its $20 million testing administration budget.

Some Oakland County school officials told The Press that such a move would encourage teachers to spend less time on writing skills. "If the MEAP is like the Super Bowl or the World Series of a kid's education — and I think that's a fair way of looking at it — this would be like running the World Series without a center fielder," Derrick Fries, an assistant superintendent in the Avondale School District, told The Press.

State Board of Education Member Liz Bauer of Birmingham also criticized the move, telling The Press, "The essay question is what gives the test some integrity. That's what colleges are looking for — to have people be able to express themselves in writing." The state education department is still formulating its spending proposals, but it will forward them to Gov. Jennifer Granholm before she presents her state budget recommendations on Feb. 10.

The Oakland Press, "State may trim MEAP essays to cut costs," Jan. 31, 2005

Walled Lake, Mich. — The Walled Lake Consolidated Schools reported earlier this month that the Michigan Department of Education had corrected state computational errors that had erroneously indicated the district had failed to achieve "Adequate Yearly Progress" under the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act.

According to a Jan. 19 Walled Lake district news release, the error came in the state's "calculation of the data for the middle school English Language Learners (ELL) English Language Arts (ELA)." The corrected statistics mean that the district attained AYP not just at the elementary school level, but the middle school level, as well.

The district's news release quoted Walled Lake Superintendent James Geisler as saying: "We are elated with the confirmation that Walled Lake Schools made AYP as a district. We hope that the parents and community realize that the reams of data that is calculated for the new state and federal AYP and No Child Left Behind initiatives are extremely complicated. More importantly, we want our community to know that Walled Lake Schools has a staff second to none and that we have always worked to provide the best instruction possible for every child and family we serve."

Walled Lake Consolidated Schools news release, "State Department of Education confirms Walled Lake Consolidated Schools made AYP," Jan. 19, 2005

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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