Contents of this issue:
  • Holland board picks cost-saving insurance

  • Detroit approves school tax, elects board

  • Kalamazoo students promised free college

  • Michigan expects to meet NCLB teacher requirements

  • Contract tensions go public in Muskegon

  • District considers four-day school week

  • School lockdown legislation introduced

Holland, Mich. — Teachers in the Holland Public Schools will begin paying a portion of their own health insurance costs after the district capped the amount it is willing to pay, according to the Holland Sentinel.

The board of education last week declared an impasse after no agreement was reached in seven months of negotiations, the Sentinel reported. Teachers will now pay $199 a month as part of the Super Care I health insurance plan offered by the Michigan Education Special Services Association. If teachers opt for MESSA Choices II, the out-of-pocket cost for teachers would drop to $50 a month. MESSA is a third party insurance administrator founded by the Michigan Education Association.

During negotiations, Holland Public Schools offered teachers a health insurance plan worth just over $13,000 per teacher per year, the Sentinel reported. The HEA proposed a plan that would cost $14,390 per teacher. Health care costs in the district had reached $15,360 per teacher annually, an amount the school board said it could not afford. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found the average family insurance plan nationwide for 2005 costs about $10,880.

"The district's financial health hangs in the balance," school board Treasurer Kevin Clark told the Sentinel. "Our district cannot afford to pay 100 percent of the health care insurance costs. It's not right to cut needed programs and services just to keep our heads above water for now."

Teachers met early Friday morning and took a vote of "no confidence" in the school board, but decided not to strike, the Sentinel said. Teacher strikes in Michigan are illegal. The district had plans in place to keep schools open had the union struck. Teachers on Friday did discuss possible legal action.

"We are researching the options to take court action in regards to this illegal imposition," MEA representative Marty Lankford told the Sentinel. "We do not believe we're at impasse. Our proposal (Wednesday) shows our desire and willingness to continue to bargain over the issues."

School board President Steve Grose said the union's latest offer would have cost the district an additional $723,000 this year and gone up from there. The plan involved teachers paying for all their health care benefits, but also receiving pay raises of more than $14,000 in some cases, the Sentinel said.

"We have to be responsive to public calls to be good stewards and not bankrupt our district with ... insurance," Grose told the Sentinel.

Holland Sentinel, "Contract talks at impasse," Nov. 10, 2005

Holland Sentinel, "Teachers won't strike, may sue," Nov. 11, 2005

The Grand Rapids Press, "Health care realities in Holland schools," Nov. 14, 2005

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Survey Finds Steady Decline in Businesses Offering Health Benefits to Workers," Sept. 14, 2005

Hay Group, "Report on the Feasibility and Cost Effectiveness of a Consolidated Statewide Health Benefits System for Michigan Public School Employees," July 13, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland Talks Fail to Progress," Nov. 8, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland Union, District Still Split," Nov. 1, 2005

Detroit — An 18-mill tax Detroit Public Schools collected for three years after it expired was renewed by voters last week, according to The Detroit News. Voters also elected a school board for the first time since 1998, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The nonhomestead tax, which will raise about $95 million a year from commercial property, was approved by a 2-1 margin, The News said. It expires in 2012. Although the previous millage expired in 2002, the City of Detroit and DPS continued collecting it until the error was discovered in June, The News said. About $259 million was collected. It is unclear if the money will have to be repaid.

Lekan Oguntoyinbo, DPS spokesman, said the district was counting on the tax being approved in order to pay salaries.

"This is the money we pay our teachers, our janitors ..." he told The News. "Any major hit to our budget means we have to bring out the budget ax. They are counting on this money to get us through."

Latisha Wilson, 32, told The News she voted no on the millage because she is concerned about the way the district has managed its money in the past.

"You don't want the money to be wasted," Wilson said. "I want them to keep a tight rein on the money."

The News said the district borrowed $200 million last year to avoid bankruptcy, and could receive $73 million less in per pupil state aid for the 2005-2006 school year due to 10,000 fewer students.

The 11-member school board does not take office until January, but already has begun working, planning training sessions and a retreat, the Free Press said. Board members will attend the National Alliance of Black Educators conference, which is in Detroit next week, and the board will hear presentations in early December about finances, MEAP tests, the No Child Left Behind law and Annual Yearly Progress requirements.

The Detroit News, "City renews tax for school millage," Nov. 9, 2005

Detroit Free Press, "New school board to start work early," Nov. 10, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Former DPS CEO Grudgingly Testified to the Benefits of Educational Liberty," August 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit Schools Collected $259 Million in Illegal Taxes," Aug. 16, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit Voters Choose Traditional School Board in November Election," Nov. 9, 2004

Kalamazoo, Mich. — Students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools for the next 12 years have a chance to get their college tuition paid for, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette.

An anonymous group is funding the "Kalamazoo Promise," which will pay for tuition and fees to any public university or community college in Michigan, the Gazette reported. Starting with the class of 2006, all students who have been enrolled in the district four or more years are eligible. Students attending KPS since kindergarten will have 100 percent of their tuition paid for, while students enrolled from ninth grade on will get 65 percent, the Gazette said.

"Starting tomorrow, there's not a kid in our district who is not college material," KPS spokesman Alex Lee said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

While in college, students must take 12 or more credits each semester, maintain a 2.0 grade-point average and be making progress toward a degree, the Gazette reported. Students who enlist in the military are eligible following their time in the service.

The Kalamazoo Gazette, "Questions, answers about the Kalamazoo Promise," Nov. 13, 2005

The Detroit Free Press, "College tuition promised to Kalamazoo Public Schools grads," Nov. 10, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private, Prepaid Tuition Programs Can Help Make College Affordable," Sept. 5, 2001

Michigan Education Digest, "College Tuition Savings Program Begins Enrollment," Sept. 7, 2004

Lansing, Mich. — Officials at the Michigan Department of Education expect to meet the goal of having 100 percent of Michigan teachers highly qualified under the No Child Left Behind Act by the end of the school year, according to The Detroit News.

NCLB stipulates that all core-subject teachers — those teaching art, English, math, science, economics, history, geography and foreign languages — must be "highly qualified" by June. The 2006 deadline, which was set in 2001, means that teachers must hold at least a bachelor's degree, obtain full state certification and demonstrate knowledge of their subject.

State officials estimate around 94 percent of Michigan teachers are highly qualified under NCLB, The News reported. Michigan turned down a deadline extension offered by the federal Department of Education, according to The News. Flora Jenkins, MDE director of professional preparation services, said, "It's a sigh of relief that the option is there, but we want to keep pushing."

In an Oct. 21 letter school officials, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said states failing to meet the deadline will not lose federal money as long as they are showing a good faith effort to meet the teacher qualification goal, The News reported.

The News also said Detroit Public Schools, the state's largest district, estimates 98 percent of its teachers are highly qualified.

The state has been using special permits to allow teachers to teach in subjects outside of their major, and programs through state universities offered training over the past three years to help teachers pick up the certifications they need under NCLB.

"We felt we were going to get very close to that 100 percent so we are still going for it," Jenkins told The News. "We have to make it this year or next."

The Detroit News, "Michigan pushes to meet goal for teachers," Nov. 3, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Data Suggests 94 Percent of Teachers are Highly Qualified," Oct. 11, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Take Another Look at Teacher Certification," Apr. 5, 2004

Muskegon, Mich. — Stalled contract talks between the Mona Shores school board and the Mona Shores Teachers Education Association are becoming more heated and public as mediation sessions continue, the Muskegon Chronicle reported.

Troubling to both sides is the increasingly public nature of the contract dispute, the Chronicle said. The school board recently sent a mailing to the school district's residents, outlining the board's perspective on the issues. Union members have been wearing slogan T-shirts and buttons, and putting signs in their car windows about the lack of a contract, the Chronicle reported.

The main roadblock is health insurance, according to the Chronicle. The school board is proposing different health care options for teachers, including keeping their current program by paying $250 annual premiums and $10-$20 prescription drug co-pays. The school board also is looking to eliminate health insurance for retired teachers through the Michigan Education Special Services Association since retired teachers already have insurance through the State of Michigan Public Schools Retirement System. Board members said that paying for both insurance plans is redundant and puts too much strain on the district. The board also could stop a proposed yearly salary increase if escalating health care costs are not brought under control, according to the Chronicle.

MESSA is a third party insurance administrator founded by the Michigan Education Association. A study by the Hay Group commissioned by the Michigan Legislature found the average school employee health care package costs about $11,700. The national average for a family health insurance plan is about $10,880, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The school board's letter said Mona Shores teachers now receive health insurance plans worth $15,674 a year.

The Chronicle reported that $2.1 million was set aside last year to cover MESSA insurance for retired teachers for the next nine years, however, the district ended up paying $858,000 through MPSERS and an additional $493,958 through MESSA in the first year alone. School Board President Linda Kelly expressed her concern over the situation in the public mailing: "The district simply cannot afford to fund this dual insurance cost."

Mona Shores Superintendent Terry Babbitt said he is concerned that students will get unfairly caught up in the dispute if teachers continue to publicly display their displeasure with the contract situation. But Kathleen Oakes, a Michigan Education Association UniServ director, told the newspaper, "We want the general public involved, to understand what's going on and to be concerned about how districts are spending money."

According to the Chronicle, Mona Shores reduced costs by $3.2 million over the last four years, but has been forced to take money out of the district savings balance with more frequency. The next mediation session is scheduled for Nov. 30.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "School contract negotiations growing tense," Nov. 2, 2005 muchronicle?NEM&coll=8

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Survey Finds Steady Decline in Businesses Offering Health Benefits to Workers," Sept. 14, 2005

Hay Group, "Report on the Feasibility and Cost Effectiveness of a Consolidated Statewide Health Benefits System for Michigan Public School Employees," July 13, 2005

Mona Shores Public Schools, "An Open Letter to Residents of the Mona Shores School District," Oct. 27, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "District Taps Savings for Retiree Insurance, Deficit," July 19, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Muskegon-area School Districts Settle on Contracts," Sept. 13, 2005

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

Three Oaks, Mich. — A Berrien County school district is considering shortening the school week to four days in an effort to reduce costs, according to the South Bend Tribune.

River Valley School District is taking input from "action teams" in an effort to meet the district's three- to five-year strategic plan, Superintendent Chet Sanders told the Tribune.

"We will investigate the recommendations to determine if they are feasible and would be a savings," Sanders told the newspaper.

One team suggested eliminating classes on Mondays. State law dictates how many hours of instruction students must receive per year, the Tribune said, rather than number of days. River Valley could increase the length of the school day and hold classes Tuesday through Friday.

Combining the district's three buildings onto a single campus also was suggested, the Tribune reported. Enrollment has declined in the district and operating schools on three different sites is expensive, Sanders said.

"It's particularly tough for us because the housing in our area (along Lake Michigan) is being sold to Chicago buyers," he told the Tribune. "From an enrollment standpoint, we can't operate all three buildings."

Proposals, if approved, would not take immediate effect, the Tribune said. School officials plan to create a brochure for the community that outlines the proposals.

South Bend Tribune, "Learning the three Rs in four days?" Nov. 6, 2005 local.20051106-sbt-MICH-B1-Learning_the_three_R.sto (subscription required)

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

Michigan Education Digest, "Innovative design saves charter schools time, money," Aug. 18, 2004

Lansing, Mich. — A bill requiring schools to perform two lockdown drills each year is now before the Michigan House of Representatives, the Michigan Information & Research Service reported.

House Bill 4460 was introduced in March by Rep. William Van Regenmorter, R-Georgetown Township, according to Schools currently must perform eight fire drills and two tornado drills each year. The bill would replace two of the fire drills with lockdown drills, in which students would be taught to shelter-in-place.

"As times change we must develop new strategies to ensure the safety of our students and teachers," Van Regenmorter told MIRS. "Solid plans need to be in place for all eventualities and requiring lockdown drills will keep those in schools prepared for any circumstance."

Lockdown drills would include establishing secure locations where students are confined, securing the premises and other appropriate measures for emergencies such as a chemical spill or the presence of an armed individual, reported.

Michigan Information & Research Service, "Lockdowns move to floor," Nov. 14, 2005 (subscription required)., "2005 House Bill 4460 (Require school lockdown drills),"

Michigan Education Report, "Tragedies spur action on school safety," May 12, 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private Protection: A Growing Industry Could Enhance School Safety," Nov. 16, 1998

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 Ted O'Neil at

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