Contents of this issue:
  • Educating poor students challenges teachers, poll finds

  • Union seeks to represent privatized Grand Rapids bus drivers

  • Muskegon area school districts settle on contracts

  • Michigan schools take in hurricane evacuees

  • Bills require fingerprints for more school workers; old prints purged

  • Insurance analyst: MESSA vulnerable due to prices

  • Mackinac Center to award four $1,000 scholarships

Lansing, Mich. — An article last week by Booth Newspapers reported on a recent poll that indicates Michigan's teachers face difficulties connecting with students whose families are in poverty or whose parents have little education.

The poll, conducted as a noncommissioned phone survey by the Lansing-based firm EPIC-MRA, shows that teachers are challenged by the task of teaching poor children, according to Booth. PR Newswire reported that 37 percent of teachers said that their students were very diverse in terms of family income, 36 percent said their students were very diverse in terms of parents' educational background, while 31 percent said diversity was due to differences in parents' occupations.

Gongwer reported that 37 percent of those teachers polled said that economic diversity presents the greatest challenge to them, whereas the educational background of parents came in second with 21 percent. Linda Wacyk of Michigan Association of School Administrators told Gongwer, "Economic diversity has always been a challenge."

The EPIC-MRA poll also showed that 82 percent of those surveyed said teachers occasionally give up attempting to reach certain students, though only 16 percent say this happens frequently, Gongwer reported. According to Booth, Michigan Education Association spokeswoman Margaret Trimer-Hartley said, "The educator in the classroom does not willingly give up on children, but they are asking for the resources to do the job and they're not getting them." David Plank, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, commented, "One of the things we know about schools that are effective with poor children is that everyone in the school has high expectations for the kids."

Responses from school officials varied. Ron Koehler, a Kent County Intermediate School District assistant superintendent, told Booth Newspapers that he does not think teachers give up trying to effectively teach children, but that they are frustrated. He said that for five years, his district has focused on working with low-income families. Another school official, Jerry Johnson, executive director of communications and development for Genesee ISD, told Booth that the results of the poll were similar to one conducted in Genesee County last year. That poll indicated that teacher apathy was the second-highest reason for public discontent with public schools.

Booth Newspapers, "Teachers challenged by student diversity, poll finds," Sept. 9, 2005

PR Newswire, "EPIC-MRA: Will Teachers Give Up on Poor Kids?", Sept. 9, 2005

Gongwer News Service, "Teachers raise concerns about family incomes," Sept. 8, 2005
http://www.gongwer.com/programming/news_articledisplay.cfm?article_ID=441740104&newsedition_id=4417401&locid=1 (subscription required)

The Detroit News, "Teachers say they 'give up' on disadvantaged students," Sept. 12, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Do Private Schools Serve Difficult-to-Educate Students?" Oct. 1, 1997

Michigan Education Report, "Michigan lagging in teacher quality says federal agency," Fall 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Private scholarship expand opportunities for low-income families," Fall 2000

Grand Rapids, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Educational Support Personnel Association, the union that represented Grand Rapids Public Schools' bus drivers before the district contracted with Dean Transportation last June, is seeking to organize former district drivers who now work for Dean, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

GRESPA sent a letter to Dean Transportation last week asking to be made the exclusive agent to represent former Grand Rapids Public School bus drivers in collective bargaining. According to The Press, 120 former GRPS drivers and 40 new ones were hired by Dean after the district opted for a contract with the company that was expected to result in a five-year savings to the district of $18 million. The union also filed a request for the list through the Freedom of Information Act, which requires public entities to release documents to the public. GRESPA says the district has not been quick enough in acquiring and turning over the employees' names to the union.

GRPS Director of Human Resources Fredericka Williams told The Press, "We told the union that we'll give the list when we have one, and that will be based on when we need it, not when GRESPA wants it. ... We are not intentionally not asking for it. These are not our employees, and we have no interest in whether or not they become GRESPA members."

GRESPA's Michigan Education Association representative Buz Graeber told The Press, "They evidently have no clue who is driving their children around every day." However, Williams said that Dean Transportation and parents know the drivers because they have introduced themselves to the families on their routes, according to The Press.

The Press also reported that Dean recognizes the Dean Transportation Employees Union, a 600-member independent bargaining unit not affiliated with the MEA.

In May, GRESPA sued Dean for undermining its contract with the GRPS board and has filed a complaint with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission accusing GRPS of an unfair labor practice, The Press reported.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Bus drivers targeted by union," Sept. 5, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Grand Rapids board privatizes busing," Summer 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "GRPS private busing gets positive reviews," Sept. 6, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How much is enough?", May 16, 2005

Muskegon, Mich. — The Muskegon Chronicle reported last week that several Muskegon area school districts have approved new teacher contracts. Negotiations, in some cases, had been prolonged for more than two years.

Muskegon Heights, Muskegon, North Muskegon, Ravenna and Fruitport teachers started the school year with contracts that had been ratified during the summer. Of his district's contract with teachers, Muskegon Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Schulze said: "It's really a good contract. ... Obviously, it's been a very long, laborious process, and that takes a lot of efforts from both sides," according to The Chronicle.

The Chronicle reported that Muskegon Heights teachers will receive a one percent pay raise from last school year and a 0.75 percent pay raise for the current school year. MPS teachers will receive retroactive pay increases of five percent for the school year, and increases of one percent or less for each of the next three school years. They will also pay more of their own health insurance and prescription drug costs. Teachers' retroactive health care contributions for school years 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 remained unsettled and will go to arbitration.

According to The Chronicle, union representatives are raising concerns about the state's education funding system. Mike Belmonte, a negotiator with the North Muskegon Education Association, told The Chronicle that it is "impossible for schools to forecast even a year ahead."

Muskegon-area districts Grand Haven, Holton, Mona Shores, Montague, Oakridge, Reeths-Puffer, Spring Lake and Whitehall are still negotiating; many of them are waiting to determine their student counts and per-pupil funding before reaching a final agreement, according to The Chronicle.

Muskegon Chronicle, "Teacher contracts in state of flux," Sept. 6, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table," Aug. 1, 1998

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Labor Law: What Every Citizen Should Know," Aug. 24, 1999

Lansing, Mich. — Michigan K-12 schools are offering a place among their classes for displaced victims of hurricane Katrina, according to Booth Newspapers. As many as 22 students are already enrolled in districts such as Warren Consolidated, Swan Valley, Walled Lake and South Redford, although the Detroit Free Press reported this week that no one knows how many students to expect or how much help students and schools may need. Some parents from areas affected by the hurricane have not identified their students as evacuees.

Last week, the state Department of Education asked districts to report daily the hurricane evacuees who enroll in their schools, the Free Press reported. According to the Booth article, the Department of Education has said the state has room for 16,570 students in 275 school districts. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan called on Michigan's school districts to offer help, and nearly half responded to the plea.

According to the Free Press, districts that take in evacuees will receive between $6,700 and $8,000 per pupil, but Michigan Department of Education spokesman Martin Ackley told Booth Newspapers: "I wouldn't say that's their motive. They're just offering assistance. It's a genuine offer."

The Detroit Free Press reported that many evacuees do not have the paperwork, such as immunization or birth records, normally required to register at a public school. According to federal law, families have 30 days to produce inoculation records. After that, the decision is turned over to county health officials. Booth reported that homeless students automatically qualify for a free-lunch program. Evacuated students will be expected to take the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test this October, as required by law, although their scores will not be counted in evaluating Adequate Yearly Progress because they have not been enrolled for at least a year, according to Booth.

Representative John Moolenaar, chairman of the Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid and Department of Education, told Booth that schools might have to extend extra help to student evacuees: "To move to a new school is a challenge for any child. They have been through a major tragedy." Gabriel Wells, a 15-year-old who fled New Orleans with her parents and registered at Southfield High School, told the Free Press: "At first I was nervous, until I talked to my parents. ... Now I feel OK."

Detroit Free Press, "Districts struggle to keep count of evacuee students," Sept. 12, 2005

Booth Newspapers, "Schools open their doors to young evacuees," Sept. 8, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Lansing schools offer to help Katrina evacuees," Sept. 6, 2005

Detroit — After the State Police purged a decade's worth of fingerprint records, thousands of public school employees may have to be fingerprinted again to comply with state law, The Detroit News reported. The News also reported that a package of school safety bills requires that all full-time and part-time Michigan school employees be fingerprinted for a Michigan State Police database, The Detroit News reported. The State Police purged fingerprint records of school employees who submitted them for background checks over the last decade.

According to The News, teachers paid $54 for fingerprint and criminal history checks in order to be hired originally, and the State Police's new digital fingerprinting format may cost up to $70 for each person being fingerprinted. The News reported that when lawmakers were working on recent school safety legislation, they learned that the State Police had thrown out the fingerprints. They therefore provided a two-year grace period in the law for teachers to be fingerprinted again.

Al Short, the Michigan Education Association's director of government affairs, told The News: "People have previously paid for fingerprints to get a job, and you've tossed them! And now we are going to require (teachers) to pay $70 to get a fingerprint they already had taken and paid for... No. That's not going to happen."

The News reported that State Police spokeswoman Shanon Akans said: "There were worries that it has a Big Brother type aspect if the State Police were keeping these fingerprints on file of people who didn't have criminal histories. We did what people wanted."

The new system will allow the State Police to keep separate digital databases on criminals and on applicants for jobs that require criminal background checks. According to The News, it is not yet determined who will pay the fee for fingerprinting school employees again.

The Detroit News, "Police purged teachers' prints," Sept. 4, 2005

The Detroit News, "Fingerprint error delays student security," Sept. 8, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "School safety legislation passed by state Senate," Sept. 6, 2005

Nashville, Tenn. — A press release issued by Decision Resources, Inc., said that Care Choices HMO "appears poised to take some educators' health business away from the Michigan Education Special Services Association (MESSA)" because it is offering lower prices, according to PR Newswire.

PR Newswire reported that the press release cited findings noted in the latest issue of Michigan Health Plan Analysis from HealthLeaders-InterStudy, a company that provides data and analysis of the managed health care market on a local, state, and national level.

Care Choices recently signed up five groups that had previously used MESSA services, PR Newswire reported. "You can see how MESSA is vulnerable to competitors," said Rick Byrne, a HealthLeaders-InterStudy analyst. "They're looking for 10 to 12 percent premium increases, while Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the company its network is built upon, is publicizing its smallest premium increases in a decade."

It will be more difficult for Michigan to achieve performance improvements under No Child Left Behind when dollars that could go toward classroom spending and salary increases are instead diverted to healthcare, Decision Resources reported. The PR Newswire article said the release noted that MESSA has been around for 40 years and has strong loyalty among educators, but added that this loyalty will be tested if the price gap between MESSA and its competitors continues.

PR Newswire, "Care Choices HMO Draws Education Groups Away from the Michigan Education Special Services Association, According to Healthleaders-Interstudy," Sept. 12, 2005

The Detroit News, "Require union plan to open claims history so districts can reduce costs through bidding," Aug. 24, 2005

High School Teachers: Help one of your students win a $1,000 College Scholarship!* Join the Mackinac Center for Public Policy for our annual High School Debate Workshops. For further details please visit
http://www.mackinac.org/debate, or call (989) 631-0900.

*A $1,000 college scholarship will be awarded to one student from each Debate Workshop. An essay topic will be released the day of the workshop. Essays will be judged by a panel, and authors of the winning essays will receive a $1,000 scholarship. Students must attend the workshop to apply.

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 140,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Ryan Olson at [med@educationreport.org]

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