Contents of this issue:
  • Intermediate school districts mull sharing services to cut costs
  • Some Detroit-area districts turn away from letter grades
  • Empty classrooms in Ypsilanti amount to two vacant schools
  • State legislators plan to submit charter accountability bills
  • Plan would create state funding formula for higher education
  • Colleges slow to adopt new SAT essay section in admissions

IONIA, Mich. - Two intermediate school districts announced last week plans to form a group to study the possible benefits of sharing services in an effort to save money in both districts, according to the Ionia Sentinel-Standard.

The 20-member group would be composed of state officials and employees and administrators from the Ionia County and Montcalm Area ISDs. Meetings are to begin in September and continue until March, when the study group will present its findings to the boards of both districts. "We're trying to look for ways to get a better bang for our buck," Ionia ISD Superintendent George Hubbard told the Sentinel-Standard.

Possible areas of savings include sharing Medicaid administrators, state-mandated auditors, or speakers for teacher training seminars. Currently, both districts employ people in those areas, but combining those resources may be a feasible way to save money, according to Montcalm ISD Assistant Superintendent Annegret Paas. "We see this as a real possibility," Paas said, according to the Sentinel-Standard.

Though such collaboration is not common for ISDs in Michigan, several districts have been researching the idea. "It's a little bit on the cutting edge," said Hubbard. "All districts should look at collaboration."

Ionia Sentinel-Standard, "Ionia, Montcalm ISDs to study collaboration," May 14, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Districts: Is Less More?" July 2001

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

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

Michigan Education Report, "What Are Intermediate School Districts?" Winter 2000

Michigan Education Report, "Group files complaints against districts," Spring 2000

DETROIT - Several Detroit-area districts have turned away from traditional letter grades for their elementary school students in favor of "number-ranking" systems meant to provide a more accurate assessment of student performance, reported The Detroit News.

The Roseville, Livonia and Allen Park districts, among others, now use what they call "numeral proficiency ratings" in some elementary grades, which provide data on student skill levels in several areas within each subject. The systems also help show how a student is performing within statewide rubrics for student achievement, according to The News. "Any time you can give parents more information, the better," Michigan Association of School Administrators Communication Manager Linda Wacyk told The News. "And if that information is related to exactly what we expect from kids and what they're going to be assessed on through the MEAP ... all the better. It gives us information, instead of a label."

District officials in Livonia replaced the letter-grade system with the new system for grades K-6 this year. Chris Schulte, a first-grade teacher in that district, said the numeral system allows schools and parents to better see how a student is performing than in the traditional, letter-grade system. "An A, B or C is more ambiguous," Schulte told The News. The new grading system gives "a real perspective of where their child stands in that grade level."

The Detroit News, "Schools drop letter grades," May 16, 2005

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - A report presented to the Ypsilanti Board of Education last Monday shows that the 39 empty classrooms in that district's elementary schools amount to more than two empty schools, according to The Ann Arbor News. The finding identifies an area that could potentially save the district money as it faces a projected $5.4 million shortfall next school year.

The district will use this data, combined with input from the public and information about staffing and curriculum, to determine if it should close schools next fall. "The decision won't be completely objective. Some would say that we should use just the facts, but a lot of it will be subjective. We're going to take all the input we can get from all sources before we make this hard decision," said Executive Director of Human Resources John Fulton, according to The News.

The district's elementary school buildings were renovated in the late 1990s, and administrators believe enrollment in those schools will remain steady for the next five years, according to Fulton. Interim Superintendent James Hawkins said he would make recommendations for closures by the end of the month. "It's important that decisions regarding school closing be made ASAP," Hawkins told The News. "We will survive. I think we will come out of this pretty good, and we will not sacrifice educational quality."

The Ann Arbor News, "Equivalent of 2 schools vacant, report shows," May 10, 2005

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

DETROIT - Two state legislators were expected to introduce legislation last week meant to make Michigan charter schools more accountable, according to the Detroit Free Press.

A bill from state Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mt. Clemens, would address purported conflicts of interest between state officials and board members at charter schools. Legislation from Rep. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, would force private charter management companies to provide internal data under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to Rep. Hopgood, similar ideas were included in legislation that never passed muster. "We think it's just right and good government to be able to know how those tax dollars are spent," Hopgood told the Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, "Bills seek charter school accountability," May 11, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "When Will Conventional Public Schools Be as Accountable as Charters?" July 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Stop Beating Up on Charter Schools," November 2002

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

HOUGHTON, Mich. - Michigan House Republicans planned to announce legislation to create for the first time a funding formula for the state's 15 public universities, according to The Daily Mining Gazette. The formula is meant to more fairly distribute state funds to institutions of higher education.

The Gazette reported last Monday that the proposed Workforce Investment Needs bill would base university funding on enrollment, research and the number of degrees granted. "This plan is about funding fairness and encouraging our colleges and universities to produce skilled workers," said House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, in a statement. "Taxpayers are tired of there being no clear cut and consistent way to fund universities and their students."

Dale Tahtinen, vice president for government relations at Michigan Technological University, said the cost for producing degrees - which is high at his institution because of its focus on science and engineering - should be taken into consideration, as well. According to The Gazette, the plan would grant funds to universities on a per-pupil basis, similar to the K-12 foundation grant system. It would also provide money for graduating certain numbers of students and for receiving federal research grants.

The Daily Mining Gazette, "GOP plan alters higher ed funding," May 17, 2005

Michigan Privatization Report, "Bringing the Market to the Ivory Tower," Winter 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Going Broke by Degree," September 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Declining Standards at Michigan Universities," November 1996

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Privatize the University of Michigan," March 2004

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Less than half of colleges and universities in the United States plan to require applicant scores on the College Board's new SAT essay section, according to a report published Sunday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The essay first appeared on the SAT test just three months ago, so College Board officials said they are not surprised at its slow uptake. "We have never recommended that schools use it in admissions decisions right away," said College Board spokeswoman Chiara Coletti, according to the Sun-Sentinel. "Since this is a new test, it makes sense to be careful in how it's used the first year."

The ACT, College Board's competitor in the college entrance-test market, also introduced a writing test this year, but that section is optional. The Sun-Sentinel cited ACT officials as saying about half of students taking the ACT are taking the optional writing section. In a survey, ACT found that less than 20 percent of colleges and universities would use writing scores for admissions decisions; that 61 percent would not use the scores; and that more than 20 percent would make the scores optional for admission.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "Universities ponder what to do with SAT's new essay test," May 15, 2005,0,3030912.story?coll=sfla-news-education

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

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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