Contents of this issue:
  • Holland union, district still split

  • School board will not sell building to charter school company

  • Utica school district ponders layoffs

  • State worried about student health

  • State Board of Education rejects accreditation plan

  • Detroit to elect new school board

  • Walled Lake implements program to save on energy

Holland, Mich. — The Holland teachers' union and school board remain split over health care coverage and other contract issues, according to the Holland Sentinel.

Holland Public Schools offered teachers a health insurance plan worth just over $13,000 per teacher per year, the Holland Sentinel reported. The Holland Education Association proposed a plan that would cost $14,390 per teacher. Current health care costs in the district are $15,360 per teacher annually, the Sentinel said. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found the average family insurance plan nationwide for 2005 costs about $10,880.

Talks between the union and district have included the Michigan Education Special Services Association, the health insurance administrator established by the Michigan Education Association. The Sentinel said health insurance costs are approaching $5 million a year, or about 12 percent of the district's total budget.

About 150 teachers, including supporters from neighboring districts, carried picket signs during a rally before a bargaining session last week, the newspaper said. The Sentinel said the union threatened to take a strike vote if the school board chose new health care provisions on its own.

"I don't think it's helpful rhetoric," school board Treasurer Kevin Clark told the Sentinel. "I don't think the community wants to see that."

The HEA announced its insurance offer at a press conference a day before talks resumed, the Sentinel reported. Members of the union have been working without a contract since Aug. 31.

Clark questioned why the union announced its plan at the Holland City Hall, the Sentinel said.

"This is a highly unusual act that has the potential to be an unfair labor practice," Clark told the Sentinel. "They should not be making proposals before sharing them with the other side."

The union also proposed a four-point plan it labeled "contract with our community," the Sentinel reported, which included establishing a task force aimed at student retention and seeking a school improvement millage through the Ottawa County Intermediate School District. State law allows ISDs to ask voters to levy up to 3 mills for a "regional enhancement" tax that can be used by area school districts. The money can be used to pay for salaries, utilities, benefits and operational expenses.

Karen McPhee, superintendent of Ottawa ISD, told the Sentinel such a millage would be difficult to pursue. She said she knows of just one that has passed statewide since Proposal A was approved.

Holland Sentinel, "Union offers concessions," Oct. 26, 2005

Holland Sentinel, "Gap remains between district, union," Oct. 27, 2005

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Survey Finds Steady Decline in Businesses Offering Health Benefits to Workers," Sept. 14, 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 Grand Rapids Public Schools board of education is refusing to sell a building to a charter school management company, even though it is the high bidder, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Atlanta-based Mosaica Education has offered $1.38 million to buy Huff Elementary School.

"We're coming to the Grand Rapids area, and we can buy that building or we can build one somewhere else," Mosaica President Gene Eidleman told The Press. "For them to say they won't sell it to us because we are a charter school is outrageous. And to find out that they want to sell it to a board member, that just doesn't look right."

The school board has no policy against selling buildings to charter schools, but they do not want to sell the school to a company they see as competition, The Press reported.

Board President Amy McGlynn told the newspaper, "We're not afraid of competition, but we don't have to help them either."

Mosaica at first offered $1 million for the building, then increased its bid to $1.38 million. The board is considering selling the 11-acre lot to a development group that includes a non-profit organization run by board member David Allen, The Press reported. The group wants to build low- and middle-income condominiums on the site.

According to The Press, Allen's group is offering less money, but proposed petitioning the state to declare the area a Brownfield, which would generate future property taxes the school district could collect. The board also says that selling the lot to Mosaica could cost the district money in per-pupil funds if the company opened a charter school that lured students away from Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Eidleman countered by telling The Press, "If they're worried about people coming in and taking their students, they need to improve their education. That's what competition is about. Grand Rapids parents deserve to have more choice."

Mosaica manages 41 charter schools nationwide and 12 in Michigan. All 12 are at full capacity and attained Adequate Yearly Progress last year, The Press reported.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Company bidding for school cries foul," Oct. 28, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000

Michigan Education Report, "Public Schools Step Up Marketing," Jan. 18, 1999

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Forging Consensus," Apr. 30, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Public Schools Learn Their Lesson About Competition," Aug. 1, 2000

Sterling Heights, Mich. — Utica Community Schools could lay off 120 employees, including 40 teachers, to eliminate a projected $15 million budget shortfall, The Macomb Daily and The Detroit News reported.

Higher health care and retirement costs were cited by The Macomb Daily as reasons for the budget problems. Utica, the second largest school district in the state, also is considering cutting the number of elective classes and reducing the school day from eight periods to six, the paper said. Parents and students objected to the proposed cuts.

Student Jeremy Pearson told the school board he would have to take fewer electives, according to The Macomb Daily: "To get into a good college, you need two years of a foreign language. You're forcing me to make decisions that are not necessary."

The district already has trimmed $19 million in spending, eliminated 61 positions and sold surplus property over the past few years, The Macomb Daily said. Its fund balance grew from $36 million in 2004 to $49 million this year, but that will be exhausted by 2008 without significant changes, according to The Macomb Daily.

The Macomb Daily, "Parents, students upset about layoff plan for Utica schools," Oct. 25, 2005

The Detroit News, "Proposed school cutbacks criticized," Oct. 25, 2005

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Contract Out For Services Before Laying Off Teachers," June 2, 2003

Lansing, Mich. — The Michigan Legislature and the Michigan Department of Education both took up the issue of student health recently.

The Senate Health Policy Committee held a hearing on childhood obesity, the Detroit Free Press reported. Senate Bill 91, introduced by Sen. Virg Bernero, D-Lansing, was discussed at the hearing. The bill would restrict sales of food classified as having minimal nutritional value, high fat or high sugar content, the Free Press reported. Schools not in compliance could be fined, according to the Free Press.

In a separate action, the State Board of Education adopted a wellness policy in accordance with federal law, according to the Michigan Information & Research Service. The policy covers nutrition education, staff training, physical education and other activities to promote student wellness, MIRS reported.

According to MichiganVotes.org, House Bill 5265, introduced Oct. 6 by Rep. LaMar Lemmons III, D-Detroit, would require all public school districts, beginning in 2006, to measure the Body Mass Index of every student and report it to parents in a confidential health report card. The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee.

Detroit Free Press, "Childhood obesity target of state Senate hearing," Oct. 9, 2005

MIRS Capitol Capsule, "Board of Education: Eat Right, Stay Healthy," Oct. 11, 2005
(subscription required)

MichiganVotes.org, "2005 House Bill 5265 (Require schools to measure children's fat)"

MichiganVotes.org, "2005 Senate Bill 91 (To prohibit the sale or distribution of "junk food" in public schools and charter schools. The bill contains definitions of what foods are prohibited)"

Lansing, Mich. — A plan to draw more attention to school accreditation was rejected by the State Board of Education, according to Gongwer News Service. The plan called for displaying school accreditation status below MEAP grades on state report cards, Gongwer reported, with grades adjusted up or down based on whether or not schools met Adequate Yearly Progress standards as spelled out by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Michigan Department of Education officials presented a plan to the Board of Education that would combine information from the state's School Improvement Framework and data from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program to determine a school's accreditation, according to the Michigan Information & Research Service. The number of benchmarks in the SIF would more than double, from 11 to 26, MIRS reported.

Board President Kathleen Straus said she agreed with what the plan tried to accomplish, Gongwer reported, but added that she thought the plan was complicated. Sue Carnell, education adviser to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said the plan appeared to add more layers, MIRS reported.

"We have AYP, Education YES!, accreditation and Blue Ribbon schools," Carnell told MIRS. "It compounds the way to look at the strengths and weaknesses of schools."

The board is expected to review a proposal in December that will create more measurable indicators of school improvement, Gongwer reported.

Gongwer News Service, "Ed board rejects accreditation changes," Oct. 11, 2005
http://www.gongwer.com/programming/news_articledisplay.cfm? article_ID=441970106&newsedition_id=4419701&locid=1&link=news_articledisplay.cfm? article_ID=441970106%26newsedition_id=4419701%26locid (subscription required)

MIRS Capitol Capsule, "Accreditation changes," Oct. 11, 2005
http://www.mirsnews.com/capsule.php?gid=347#5416 (subscription required)

Michigan Education Report, "State Board of Education Adopts School Grading Plan," May 30, 2002

Michigan Education Digest, "Workers Disrupt Hearings on Michigan School Accreditation," Jan. 22, 2002

Detroit — Voters in Detroit Nov. 8 will elect a public school board of education for the first time in seven years.

The Detroit News reported that 20 candidates are running for 11 openings, offering ideas ranging from single gender schools to firing unsatisfactory teachers. The elected school board was removed in 1999 by a vote of the Michigan Legislature and replaced with an appointed one. Voters in Detroit approved a plan by a 2-1 margin in November 2004 to return to an elected board, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Enrollment in DPS has declined by roughly 33,000 in the past six years, reflecting the increased popularity of expanded educational options, including schools of choice, charter schools and home schooling, The News said. The loss of students meant less revenue for Detroit public schools, The News reported, leading to a $200 million budget deficit, 2,000 layoffs and the closure of a number of buildings.

Tom Watkins, Michigan's former superintendent for public instruction, said the state's financial future is tied to improving education in Detroit.

"If it's about teaching, learning, children and teachers, the board will make the right decisions," he told the Free Press. "If it becomes about power, control, politics and adults, we're going to be mired in things that are not going to serve our children well."

The Detroit News, "New school board's task: Keep students in Detroit," Oct. 23, 2005

Detroit Free Press, "Not the same old school board," Oct. 26, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit schools lose students, funding," Nov. 26, 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The $200 million question," Jan. 17, 2005

Walled Lake, Mich. — Walled Lake Consolidated Schools reduced energy costs by $850,000 last year, The Detroit News reported.

Walled Lake employs motion-sensitive light switches and high-efficiency furnaces in their buildings, The News reported, but they are now engaging in a money-saving strategy that focuses on employee energy use. The district consulted with Texas-based Energy Education Inc. to come up with energy-saving recommendations that would not require the district to spend large sums upgrading equipment and infrastructure, The News said.

Over the course of the 2004-2005 school year, Walled Lake saved money primarily by requiring teachers to turn off lights and computers at the end of the day, and by turning down the heat, according to The News. The district's energy manager, Carol Holly, said the changes in habit are having an effect: "There was a small amount of people who thought that one computer wouldn't make a difference. But we have over 7,000 computers in the district. It does add up."

Walled Lake also is focusing on energy use in its buildings when school is not in session. District Director of Operations Bill Chatfield told The News that of 8,760 hours in a calendar year, school is only in session for about 1,000 hours, so the district decided to shut off heating and air conditioning systems when the schools are not being used.

According to The News, as Walled Lake Consolidated Schools expanded — the district now has 16,000 students and has built seven schools in the past decade — the need to contain high energy costs became apparent.

The News reported that the consensus among Walled Lake employees is that making little changes to save $850,000 is a good idea. Central High School Principal David Barry said, "It hasn't cost us any lack of instruction or lack of resources. We don't feel like we're missing anything. The requests the district made were very reasonable; it was just common sense," according to The News.

The Detroit News, "Schools power down to save," Oct. 26, 2005

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

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

To subscribe or unsubscribe, go to