Contents of this issue:
  • Granholm warns against charter school ban

  • Detroit News unveils school improvement ideas

  • Holland contract talks stall

  • New GRPS superintendent could make $200,000

  • Grand Haven contract talks hinge on co-pays

  • Students take MEAP online

  • Grand Rapids union to sue over bus drivers

Detroit — Gov. Jennifer Granholm has told the 140-member Detroit Public Schools transition team not to adopt recommendations calling for a ban on charter schools, The Detroit News reported.

The transition team, chaired by Rev. Wendell Anthony, was created to help DPS as it moves from an appointed board to an elected one, The News said. Anthony, president of the NAACP's Detroit branch, told the paper the team has not finalized its report yet and plans to issue it by the end of November.

In an Oct. 6 letter to Anthony, Gov. Granholm wrote: "This recommendation suggests that the only way to bring students back to the DPS is to eliminate educational options that parents and children have today," The News reported. "The Transition Team instead should remain focused on finding ways to improve the Detroit Public Schools to give parents more, not fewer, opportunities to choose good schools for their children."

The News said there is "constant friction" between Detroit Public Schools and area charter schools as DPS estimates 10,000 fewer students, many having chosen charters, are enrolled compared to last year. The loss of students could lead to $69 million less in state funding. According to the newspaper, the charter ban and a recommendation that the district sue the state, claiming funding is not adequate, came from the transition team's legal committee. Gov. Granholm's letter said she has worked to increase school funding and a lawsuit would be counterproductive, The News said.

The Detroit News, "Granholm warns school panel," Oct. 11, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling," January 2001

Michigan Education Digest, "Former Detroit superintendent praises charter schools," May 2000

Detroit — In a series of editorials last week, The Detroit News unveiled what it believes are the keys to improving public education in Michigan, including suggestions such as raising expectations, providing more counseling, creating smaller schools and making college more affordable.

In the introduction to the series, The News cited an EPIC-MRA survey of Michigan residents, ages 18 to 30, that was commissioned by a group called "Your Child," which is focused on improving college graduation rates. The poll found just 12 percent of young adults felt "very challenged" in high school; while only 17 percent found classes "relevant," The News reported.

Pollster Ed Sarpolous told The News that parents, educators and students are to blame.

"None of these groups insist on success," he said.

The newspaper said the preferred ratio of counselors to students is one per 250, but Michigan averages one per 450. The poll showed 31 percent of respondents received help from a counselor in making decisions about high school curriculum, while 16 percent were helped by a counselor when deciding to pursue post-secondary education. The News said Michigan needs a greater commitment to high school counseling so students can make a connection between what they learn in school and how it relates to their future.

The News also advocated smaller class sizes in conjunction with a mandatory statewide curriculum. The state Board of Education is studying state-mandated curriculum, and Apple Computer was recently invited to create a high-tech school within a Detroit high school. The average high school in Michigan has 675 students, The News said, but can be much bigger in large cities. Benefits of smaller schools include a better learning environment, fewer administrators and lower transportation costs, The News said. As for a mandatory curriculum, The News said it must meet the needs of the students, rather than cater to teachers or parents. A rigorous curriculum, with math and science requirements, would better prepare students for college, the editorial concluded.

The EPIC-MRA survey found that the escalating cost of higher education is making college unaffordable to many Michigan residents. In pointing out the benefits of pre-paid college costs and tax-deferred savings, The News called for changes in tax policy to make college more affordable, including altering the federal tax code so pre-tax dollars can be set aside for tuition. The News also said spending must be controlled on campus, saying universities "continue to be aloof from the austere budgeting demanded of other institutions."

Finally, The News suggested getting rid of or seriously revamping the senior year of high school. The EPIC-MRA poll found fewer than half of seniors apply themselves fully during that final year of school.

The News said senior year should be the most rigorous of a four-year program, rather than allowing seniors to schedule "fluff" classes, often with the cooperation of parents and teachers.

The Detroit News, "State high schools fail their customers," Oct. 9, 2005

The Detroit News, "Michigan must improve high school counseling," Oct. 10, 2005

The Detroit News, "Michigan needs smaller schools, tougher classes," Oct. 11, 2005

The Detroit News, "Secure Michigan's future by keeping college costs low," Oct. 12, 2005

The Detroit News, "Make the senior year more work, less party," Oct. 13, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "The answer is smaller schools," Feb. 15, 2002

Michigan Education Digest, "Schools prepare for the 'Digital Age,'" Jan. 10, 2001

Holland, Mich. — Talks between Holland Public Schools and its teachers union are on hold until the end of October, according to The Grand Rapids Press. The two sides talked for more than seven hours last Monday, meeting with a state mediator at city hall for a second time.

At issue is how much, if anything, members of the Holland Education Association will contribute toward health insurance, The Press said. The union has forgone cost of living increases in recent contracts to preserve its health care package, the newspaper reported. A school board spokesman told The Press that the impasse is costing the district $15,000 a week.

The district has sent employees three separate letters warning that an illegal strike would be grounds for dismissal, The Press said. Base salaries for Holland teachers range from $38,628 to $67,792, with an average of $55,175, according to The Press.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Holland's teacher contracts will continue," Oct. 11, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland teachers prepare for strike," Sept. 27, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland district concerned about possible illegal teacher strike," Sept. 20, 2005

Grand Rapids, Mich. — The next superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public Schools could make $200,000 or more, The Grand Rapids Press reported last week.

The current superintendent, Bert Bleke, earns $175,000, The Press said. Bleke is leaving at the end of the year. Timothy Quinn, of the Michigan Leadership Institute, is helping guide the district through the search process. He told the school board there are more large districts than usual looking for a new superintendent, The Press said. Currently, 15 districts of 20,000 or more students are searching for new leaders, including Cleveland, Charlotte, N.C., and Toledo, Ohio.

"The higher you get in terms of salary, the easier it will be to recruit candidates," Quinn said.

WZZM, the ABC affiliate in Grand Rapids, said the search for a new superintendent will include staff and community input sessions in October, a Dec. 9 deadline for MLI to receive applications from candidates, a special board meeting in January for interviews and a mid-February goal for hiring the person.

The Grand Rapids Press, "New superintendent may earn $200,000," Oct. 11, 2005

WZZM13, "GRPS releases time line for superintendent search," Oct. 14, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Minneapolis Schools Teach A Lesson In Privatization," Nov. 16, 1998

Holland, Mich. — Contract negotiations between Grand Haven Area Public Schools and the Grand Haven Education Association have been halted by disagreements over teacher co-pays for prescription drugs, according to The Holland Sentinel.

The Sentinel reported last week that the GHEA said contract talks had been heading toward the signing of a one-year agreement, but GHAPS interim Superintendent Keith Konarska told The Sentinel that the school board needed a two-year agreement that would include higher prescription drug co-pays for teachers in order to make up for rising health care costs.

The district is facing a 16 percent increase in its health insurance costs this year, according to The Sentinel. The school board is asking that teachers pay $10 for generic drugs and $20 for name-brand prescriptions beginning next school year with the proposed two-year plan.

According to The Sentinel, union President David Maloley said in a statement last Tuesday that, "The deal fell through, however, when the board of education made it clear that there would be no settlement without concessions." Konarska maintains that negotiations have been conducted in good faith, but that a two-year agreement is needed. Maloley said his group was ready to accept a one-year pact, but that the second year would not be acceptable without further discussion, The Sentinel said.

The Holland Sentinel, "Talks stalled over new teacher contracts," Oct. 13, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "West Michigan schools aim to save money by changing health insurance," Sept. 20, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School boards should fix problems in collective bargaining," Sept. 8, 1998

Grand Rapids, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Press reported last week that about 50 sixth-grade students at Millbrook Christian and Sylvan Christian schools in the Grand Rapids area participated in a program that allowed them to take the language arts part of their Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests on laptop computers instead of the conventional paper-and-pencil format.

The pilot program was conducted with 2,800 students in 24 districts statewide, according to The Press. It was designed to test the advantages and disadvantages of administering the MEAP electronically.

Sylvan sixth-grader Trevor Vanderzee told The Press, "It was way easier than just writing it down, just 'cause typing is faster. I did better (than in the paper format) because there's not so much pressure. It just seems easier. It's more of a game."

According to The Press, Sylvan teacher Hilda Quist liked the electronic version too, mainly because results were available within 48 hours. "That's the best (part) of this," she said. "You can get this feedback and go from there."

The Press reported that two Grand Rapids public schools, Riverside and Northeast middle schools, were supposed to participate in the program, but problems with the testing company, Pearson Educational Measurement, caused them to forgo it in favor of the regular format. The Press reported that Assessment Specialist Erika Bolig of Grand Rapid Public Schools said teacher training and tech support promised by Pearson had not been delivered.

At Millbrook and Sylvan, however, tech support personnel were on hand and teachers were ready to use paper and pencil tests if the online format did not work, according to The Press. Quist said there were no problems other than the test was slow to download.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Students prefer online MEAP to push pencils," Oct. 13, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "State threatens action against MEAP contractor," Oct. 11, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "More students to take MEAP; Testing earlier in school year," Sept. 6, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "New MEAP procedure will begin this fall," Aug. 30, 2005

Grand Rapids — The Grand Rapids Education Support Personnel Association announced last week it will file an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the company now providing bus service for Grand Rapids Public Schools, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

The union will claim Dean Transportation, which GRPS began contracting with this year, is violating the federal succession doctrine, which allows employees to remain members of their unions after a change in ownership, The Press said. Dean hired about 120 of the 220 former union members after signing a five-year contract with the district.

"The union wants these drivers to get the message that the Michigan Education Association will never abandon its members," union representative Buz Graeber told The Press.

The Press said the drivers do belong to a union, the Dean Transportation Employees Union, which has 600 members. Similar lawsuits have not been filed in other districts where Dean works, owner Kellie Dean said.

"This is a matter that we will discuss with our legal people," Dean told The Press. "But our job is to safely transport students to and from school each day, and we will remain focused on that task."

The union already has filed a complaint with the Michigan Employee Relations Commission against the district, The Press said, and filed suit against Dean in May, saying the company and school board aligned to undermine its contract, which did not expire until the end of this school year.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Bus drivers union claims unfair labor practice," Oct. 14, 2005

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

Michigan Education Digest, "Union seeks to represent privatized Grand Rapids bus drivers," Sept. 13, 2005

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 Ted O'Neil at [med@educationreport.org].

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