Contents of this issue:
  • Holland district concerned about possible illegal teacher strike

  • Schools can count Katrina evacuees for funding

  • Post-Labor Day start bill could reach governor soon

  • Houghton Lake Board facing budget problems

  • West Michigan schools try to save money by changing health insurance

  • Grayling home school students challenge public school sports policy

  • State Superintendent Flanagan wants rigorous graduation standards

Holland, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Press reported over the weekend that the Holland Public School district is concerned about the prospect of an employee walkout.

The district has been in negotiations over a teacher contract for months, and teachers are not working under a contract presently. Marty Blankford, a Michigan Education Association Uniserv director told The Press, "There has been some discussion about that issue (striking)." The union, he said, "is prepared and willing to bargain all aspects of the contract, however long that takes. Teachers would consider a walkout if the school board imposes an illegal contract." The Press reported that the union would consider any contract "illegal" that did not come about as a result of collective bargaining.

A sticking point is health insurance, according to The Press. The district is offering a contract that pays $1,081 per employee for group health insurance, with its contribution increasing by five percent each July. Employees would pay the rest. Currently, the Holland district uses the MESSA Super Care 1 plan, but the board announced in June that it was looking to seek competitive bids on health insurance rather than maintain exclusive coverage through MESSA, a health insurance administrator established by the MEA.

The Press reported that Holland's Human Resources Director Carol Minnaar sent an e-mail to district employees last Friday reminding them that it is illegal for Michigan public employees to strike. She wrote, according to The Press, "Our board's policy has not changed — illegal activity by a student, teacher or staff member will not be tolerated." Minnaar also said the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act gives school districts the right to terminate employees who participate in walkouts and that they cannot be reimbursed for any fines they incur during a strike, according to The Press.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Holland frets over teacher walkout," Sept. 17, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Important Differences between Government and Private-Sector Unions," Aug. 24, 1999

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

Lansing, Mich. — Michigan Information & Research Service reported last Wednesday that Michigan schools taking in students displaced by Hurricane Katrina may add them to their student counts for school year 2005-2006.

The policy of including evacuees in student counts is part of House Bill 4306, which MIRS said was finalized for passage in the state Legislature last week. According to, the bill guarantees that schools will receive state per-pupil grants for "students who are 'refugees' from Hurricane Katrina, in the same way they receive the grants for children who are residents of the school district."

MIRS reported that no extra money was set aside by the state to provide for the displaced students, but that the Michigan Department of Education can seek reimbursement from the federal government when it is determined how many evacuees are attending Michigan schools.

Michigan Information & Research Service, "Schools Get Money For Katrina Kids," Sept. 14, 2005 (subscription required)

Michigan Votes, "2005 House Bill 4306 (Appropriations: 2006 school aid budget)," Sept. 14, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Michigan schools take in hurricane evacuees," Sept. 13, 2005

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

Lansing, Mich. — Gongwer News Service reported last week that the Michigan Legislature is on the verge of passing a bill that would require Michigan school districts to wait until after Labor Day to begin their school year — an idea first proposed 16 years ago — and Gov. Jennifer Granholm is considering signing it into law.

House Bill 4803 passed in the House 69-40 and also made it through a Senate committee last week on a party line vote of 3-2, according to Gongwer and the Detroit Free Press. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ed. Gaffney (R-Grosse Pointe Farms), said he plans to discuss the legislation with the governor in the near future, Gongwer reported.

The bill's proponents argue that the measure will provide a boost to Michigan's summer tourism by allowing families an extra weekend of travel before the school year begins. According to Gongwer, representatives of tourist-related industries are relying on a Senate Majority Policy Office analysis that points to the prospect of boosting tourism by $132 million and producing $10 million more in state tax revenue if the law were to take effect.

While many school officials are opposed to the legislation, Gongwer reported, some business people are speaking out in favor of it. Bill Shepler, president of the Shepler Ferry Company that serves Mackinac Island, said, "I haven't heard how it would hurt schools. All we're doing is taking a block of time and moving it a little this way," according to Gongwer. However, Don Wotruba of the Michigan Association of School Boards says the economic benefit would be negligible. "You will have a lot of disruption for a very minimal gain," he told Gongwer.

The Detroit Free Press reported that a recent EPIC/MRA poll showed 63 percent of Michigan voters were in favor of the move, while 22 percent opposed it and 15 percent were undecided. As for Gov. Granholm, the governor's spokeswoman Liz Boyd told Gongwer, "The governor is much more receptive to a post-Labor Day start of school than she has indicated in the past. That comes from obviously listening to people from throughout the state, including comments she received during her trip (through northern Michigan)."

Gongwer News Service, "Granholm Open To Signing Post-Labor Day School Bill," Sept. 14, 2005 (subscription required)

Detroit Free Press, "Senate panel votes to keep schools from starting before Labor Day," Sept. 14, 2005

FURTHER READING:, "2005 House Bill 4803 (Ban school year starting before Labor Day)"

Michigan Education Digest, "Michigan lawmakers to push school start past labor day," Sept. 2, 2003

Houghton Lake, Mich. — The Houghton Lake Resorter reported last week that Steve Smaka, a Certified Public Accountant who has experience certifying state audits and as a school business official, urged the Houghton Lake Board of Education to take "immediate action" to reduce the school district's budget by about $1.4 million. The district is facing the possibility of a fund balance deficit of $670,000, the Resorter reported.

According to The Resorter, Smaka is projecting expenditures for school year 2005-2006 of $17,424,271, with revenues lagging behind at $16,083,243. Smaka said at a special board meeting last week that the school district's fund balance has been in decline, from $3,728,960 in school year 2001-2002 to last year's $667,563. The Resorter reported that Smaka believes the main reason for the downturn is a three-year contract the district settled with the Houghton Lake Education Association in 2003, as well as rising health insurance and retirement costs, declining enrollment and a flat state per-pupil allowance.

The newspaper reported that the district is looking at potential long-term effects of a teacher contract that schedules 5 percent pay increases at every pay level. According to the newspaper's analysis, the highest-paid Houghton Lake teachers earn $71,218 annually, almost $10,000 more per year than the highest-paid teachers at neighboring school districts.

Smaka said that the recent $175 increase in state per-pupil grants would add approximately $300,000 to the district's revenue and would only be a "small drop in the bucket." He said that with a payroll of $10 million, "health care alone would exceed the increase," The Resorter reported.

According to The Resorter, Smaka made five recommendations to the Houghton Lake Board of Education: roll back teacher salaries, which, along with benefits, constitute about 59% of the total budget, and seek bids directly from Blue Cross Blue Shield for health insurance, which, he said, "should reduce your cost from your current MESSA contracts;" privatize transportation and food services, if it is unable to eliminate insurance benefits for all employees who work fewer than 40 hours a week; develop a plan for replacing buses and making other capital improvements; close under-used facilities; and have the business manager keep close tabs on overtime pay. He also said, "If you can't negotiate a contract you can afford, you'll be forced to make immediate cuts," The Resorter reported.

The Houghton Lake Resorter, "Drastic budget cuts may save schools," Sept. 15, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," Dec. 3, 2002

Muskegon, Mich. — Two West Michigan school districts, Reeths-Puffer and Spring Lake, hope to save thousands of dollars every year by switching health insurance providers for administrators and nonunion support personnel, and by forming a West Michigan Health Insurance Pool, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

The savings the Reeths-Puffer district will accrue from switching insurance providers will enable the administrators to receive a 1.5 percent pay raise this year, according to The Chronicle, compared to a 1 percent pay decrease administrators accepted last year.

These school districts, along with Caledonia, East Grand Rapids, Northview, Rockford, South Haven, Kent Intermediate School District and Ottawa Area ISD, have formed their own insurance group through the Michigan Education Welfare Association, The Chronicle reported. Reeths-Puffer Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Dean VanZegeren said shopping for health insurance together will allow the districts to receive discounts from insurance carriers, resulting in lower costs for the districts. VanZegeren's district expects to save 18 percent, or $37,000 annually with such a plan, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 1, 2005.

Reeths-Puffer and Spring Lake have said that they have tried to make the transition as seamless as possible. The Chronicle reported that while employees affected by the plan will now have to choose their doctors from a list of preferred physicians, they will no longer pay a deductible. VanZegeren told The Chronicle, "Overall, this one is equal to, or better than, the former policy — except they have to use the network."

Spring Lake implemented its new insurance on Sept. 1, according to The Chronicle. Spring Lake Superintendent Larry Mason told The Chronicle, "So we're basically getting the same benefits and we're hopeful we'll be able to do it for an 8 percent savings. It will take a couple years to see how this works ... and we have every reason to believe it will work."

The Chronicle reported that the districts currently use the Michigan Education Special Services Association for administrators and nonunion personnel. According to The Chronicle, they banded together in part to allow themselves to shop for the best prices on health insurance. Teachers, whose insurance is negotiated by their unions, will not be affected by the plan.

Muskegon Chronicle, "Insurance switch saves schools money," Sept. 15, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teachers Deserve Good Benefits; Schools Deserve To Know What They Cost," July 6, 1998

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

Crawford County, Mich. — Two home schooled students in the Grayling area are petitioning the Crawford AuSable School Board to allow them to play on Grayling High School's sports teams, according to the Crawford County Avalanche.

Chelsea Chamblee and Jessica Bobenmoyer, teenagers who are being home schooled, want to be able to play on the public school's sports teams after practicing and attending camps with Grayling girl's basketball teams this summer, reported the Avalanche. The girls had planned on joining the team for the fall season until district officials said they wanted to be sure that students were meeting academic requirements.

The Avalanche reported that the district requires home school students to be tested for proficiency, in some cases by taking higher-level courses, and by a district review of their home school curriculum. Milli Haug, then-superintendent of the Crawford AuSable Schools, pointed to a Michigan High School Athletic Association provision that requires student athletes to be passing 20 credit hours of course work at the school to play on sports teams. Haug also cited a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision that she says ruled that home school students do not have a constitutionally protected right to play on public school teams.

The girls' parents plan to make an appeal to the Crawford AuSable school board this week. They say there is an alternative MHSAA provision that allows home school credits to be counted toward the mandatory 20, provided academic progress reports are carried out every 10 weeks. They also told the Avalanche they are willing to pay fees to let their children play. According to the Avalanche, former Superintendent Haug maintains, "We are certainly willing to open up every opportunity we can for these students if they choose to attend our schools 20 hours a week."

The newspaper reported that Chamblee participates in band class at Grayling High School, but neither she nor Bobenmoyer have high hopes for getting into the sports program for this fall. "We wouldn't expect them to open the door and say come back to the team," said Julie Bobenmoyer, Jessica's mother. "It's too late."

Crawford County Avalanche, "Home school students to contest policy," Sept. 15, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Bill would allow home schoolers to participate in public school activities," Fall 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Home-schoolers turn to public schools for support," Early Fall 2001

Lansing, Mich. — State Superintendent Mike Flanagan appeared before the Michigan Senate Education Committee for the first time as superintendent last Thursday, promoting more rigorous high school graduation standards, Gongwer News Service reported.

According to Gongwer, the Michigan Department of Education is currently researching how to raise those standards, and whether the state should take a larger role in establishing them. Gongwer reported that local school districts currently set their own curriculum, except for one semester of civics instruction that is required by the state.

Flanagan told the committee, "Far too many kids are graduating from our schools (who) have not been subjected to a rigorous curriculum. We are in danger of becoming a third-rate state, and we do not have much time to fix the problem," according to Michigan Information & Research Service. MIRS also reported that Flanagan advised the state to consider curriculum requirements that include math, science and some sort of art or cultural studies. Flanagan said: "I will not be a cheerleader ... I will use my office as a bully pulpit to help change the shape of education in Michigan."

Flanagan emphasized that in an era when business and employment competition is global, Michigan's graduates should be prepared to compete.

According to remarks obtained by Booth Newspapers, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said, "With Michigan's economic future on the line, we can't afford to have our 500 local school districts marching in different directions."

Education Committee Chairman Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, told MIRS that Flanagan will be "taken seriously," and districts that "are not delivering" need to improve, but that he favors local, not state, control of school districts.

Gongwer News Service, "Panel Told State Considering Higher Graduation Standards," Sept. 15, 2005 &newsedition_id=4417901&locid=1&link=news_articledisplay.cfm ?article_ID=441790111%26newsedition_id=4417901%26locid=1 (subscription required)

Michigan Information & Research Service, "Flanagan Calls For Standards," Sept. 15, 2005 (subscription required)

Booth Newspapers, "Granholm backs mandated classes for high school," Sept. 16, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Momentum builds for tougher curriculum," Summer 2005">

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

Contact Managing Editor Ryan Olson at

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