Contents of this issue:
  • Court seals data on school employees with criminal backgrounds

  • New Detroit high school has structural problems

  • AFT: Average Michigan teacher salary in top five nationally

  • Lansing school district won't sell empty building to charter

  • Planning helps school district avoid budget problem

  • Union e-mail targets community panel

  • School administrators question graduation requirements

LANSING, Mich. — An Ingham County circuit court judge Monday granted a temporary order barring the Michigan Department of Education from releasing the names of public school employees who have criminal backgrounds, according to The Detroit News. The Michigan Education Association requested the order.

A State Police database search in early January revealed that employees currently working in public schools have been convicted of 4,600 crimes, of which 100 were sex offenses and 2,200 were felonies, The News reported. The News on Jan. 23 filed a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Education requesting the names, job titles and school districts of the employees.

Margaret Trimer-Hartley, spokeswoman for the union, said the MEA does not want the information made public because the database search was done using the names and dates of birth for school employees, according to The News. Trimer-Hartley said fingerprint checks are most accurate, The News reported.

"I just think it's reasonable in our mind to make sure that anything that gets released to the public is correct," Trimer-Hartley told The News.

Dawn Hertz, general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, told The News: "The Michigan Supreme Court has already ruled: Anything having to do with public employees is not personal." Yet to be determined is whether the Department of Education can release the information to individual school districts, according to The News. Districts were to receive that information this week.

A Feb. 10 hearing is scheduled to determine if the order will be permanent, The News reported.

The Detroit News, "School workers' files sealed," Jan. 31, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "School employee background check turns up felons," Jan. 24, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "High cost of fingerprinting school employees," Dec. 6, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Granholm signs student safety bills," Oct. 4, 2005, "2005 House Bill 4928 ("School Safety" package)"

DETROIT — A Detroit high school with the third-highest construction cost in the nation is in need of repairs, according to the Detroit Free Press. Cass Technical High School cost $127 million to build and opened last August.

The roof leaks, the heating and cooling system requires 24-hour attention from engineers and both the football field and printing shop are unusable at Cass Tech, the Free Press reported.

Mark Schrupp, deputy chief of facilities for Detroit Public Schools, told the Free Press that first-year problems are to be expected in new construction, and that contractors are being held accountable for fixing those problems.

"We're not releasing final payments until we've got every issue resolved," he told the newspaper.

The Free Press also reported that trash cans sit beneath emergency wash basins in science labs because the plumbing has not been connected, gas valves that are supposed to be behind glass are uncovered and software has yet to be loaded on to computers in the computer-assisted drafting room.

Belmont High School in Los Angeles and another DPS school, Detroit School of the Arts, rank ahead of Cass Tech in construction costs, according to the Free Press. Detroit School of the Arts cost $130 million and also opened last year. In contrast, new high schools have opened in the last few years in Plymouth and Saline costing $54 million and $89 million, respectively.

Detroit Free Press, "Pricey new Cass Tech already needs fixes," Jan. 25, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's Prevailing Wage Law Forces Schools to Waste Money," Nov. 9, 2001

Michigan Education Digest, "New Ann Arbor high school $3 million over budget," Dec. 13, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Innovative construction saves charter school time, money," Aug. 18, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Is there a better way to finance and build new schools?" April 16, 1999

NEW YORK — A second study by a major teachers union shows Michigan teachers are paid in the top five nationally.

The "Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2004," released by the American Federation of Teachers, shows Michigan educators were paid an average of $54,474 in 2004, placing them behind teachers in Connecticut, California, Rhode Island and New York. A December study from the National Education Association said Michigan teachers rank fourth in the nation, with an annual average salary of $55,503 in 2004 and $56,973 in 2005.

The AFT study ranked Michigan first in teacher salary within the Great Lakes region, and second, at $34,377, in average starting teacher pay.

Michigan ranked ninth nationally in comparing average teacher salaries against the average private sector income, the report said. The state's $54,474 average for educators is 138 percent of the average annual private sector income of $39,484. Nationally, the average teacher's salary of $46,597 is 123 percent of the private sector average income of $37,765.

American Federation of Teachers, "Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2004," January 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "NEA study: Michigan teachers paid above national average," Dec. 20, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality: How Do They Relate?" April 16, 1999

Michigan Education Report, "Increase teachers' pay the right way," Sept. 13, 2000

LANSING, Mich. — The Lansing School District is refusing to sell a vacant building to a local charter school, according to City Pulse, a weekly Lansing-area publication.

The Lansing district last year closed five schools to help eliminate a $10 million deficit, City Pulse reported. One of them, Walnut Elementary School, is for sale for around $250,000. The Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy has expressed an interest in buying the building. The charter school is in danger of losing its current home, on the grounds of the Michigan School for the Blind, City Pulse reported.

Lansing Superintendent E. Sharon Banks said the district has "the first right of refusal," if a charter school offers to buy the building.

Lansing Board of Education member Hugh Clarke Jr. said any plan to sell Walnut Elementary to a charter school would not find support on the school board.

"From an ideological standpoint, it might be difficult for me to swallow," Clarke told City Pulse. "That's almost like cutting off your nose to spite your face."

Newly elected Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero disagrees with the school board.

"I think you have to look at all viable offers and interests," he told City Pulse. "My view is, better a charter school than an empty building, frankly."

City Pulse, "Lansing school officials to charter schools: No way," Jan. 18, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "With Clear Eyes, Sincere Hearts and Open Minds," July 27, 2002

Michigan Education Digest, "School board will not sell building to charter school company," Nov. 1, 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, "Public Schools Learn Their Lesson About Competition," Aug. 1, 2000

STANDISH, Mich. — A superintendent with an MBA and long-range financial planning skills has helped Standish-Sterling Community Schools remain financially viable, according to The Bay City Times.

A $4 million swimming pool is under construction, the new high school is less than five years old, an auditorium hosts dance, music and theater productions and athletic teams train year-round in a $1 million field house in the Arenac County district, The Times reported.

Claude Inch, superintendent for 20 years, already has calculated revenue projections and student head counts for 2010, 2015 and 2020.

"My computer labs got all new computers this year," high school Principal Mark Williams told The Times. "It's Claude's five-year rotation schedule. We're like a fine-tuned machine."

The projects, including the pool, are paid for in cash from a fund balance that has grown in the decade since voters approved Proposal A, The Times reported. Before Proposal A, Standish-Sterling received about $2,700 per student from the state school aid fund, Inch told The Times. That amount now stands at $6,875 per student, a portion of which the district sets aside each year.

Voters approved a 7-mill tax increase in 1999 that raised $24 million for the new high school, created a new middle school in the old high school and remodeled two elementary schools, The Times reported.

"Manage in the short-term, project in the long-term," Inch told The Times. "You have to know how much you have, what the priorities are and what you need to accomplish them. Keep yourself properly staffed and be vigilant about what you're spending money on."

The Bay City Times, "Good planning helps Standish schools thrive in tight times," Dec. 27, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" Aug. 30, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Do Schools Really Need More Money?" Sept. 1, 1997

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

HOLLAND, Mich. — An e-mail from the president of the Holland teachers union has upset the chairman of a citizen's group that is working to improve Holland Public Schools, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Charles Bullard, president of the Holland Education Association, said in his Jan. 10 e-mail to union members that the Holland Public Schools' Community Advisory Committee is "window dressing" for decisions already made by administrators, The Press reported. Bullard's e-mail also said that because the committee has no official union representation, it does not represent the views of teachers or minorities. The Press also said Bullard's e-mail called the committee's meetings "a joke" and were poorly attended.

Ted Simpkins, chairman of the group that was formed in November to give feedback on how the district could better handle finances and increase enrollment, said he was "disappointed and personally hurt" by Bullard's comments, The Press reported. Simpkins also pointed out that there are six teachers among the 34 community members on the panel and that meetings have attracted hundreds of residents, including teachers and minorities.

"This is painful to all of us who have put in a lot of personal thought, effort, time and energy into our work (on the committee) for the HEA to feel like this," Simpkins told The Press.

School board member Kevin Clark said he thinks the e-mail stems from ongoing contract negotiations.

"This is a continuation of the negative pattern of rhetoric and misinformation being put out by the HEA leadership over the past four months," Clark told The Press. "My hope is the vast majority of our teaching staff does not share (Bullard's) beliefs."

The Grand Rapids Press, "Union leader's e-mail causes stir," Jan. 12, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland declares second impasse, teachers get free insurance," Jan. 17, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "Growing number of districts seek solutions to costly health insurance," Dec. 15, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland board picks cost-saving insurance," Nov. 15, 2005

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. — The Macomb County Association of School Administrators has expressed concerns over a plan for statewide graduation requirements, according to The Macomb Daily.

The group, which includes superintendents from all 21 of Macomb County's school districts, said it supports tougher graduation standards, but would like to see the plan delayed at least two years, mainly due to what it sees as a lack of qualified teachers.

"They're just not coming out of the colleges," Gayle Green, chief academic officer for the Macomb Intermediate School District, told The Daily. "We need more flexibility."

The standards, approved by the State Board of Education in December and now being discussed by Legislators, would require high school students to have 18 credits, including more math and science courses, in order to graduate.

Green also said that because Algebra II is among the requirements, teachers must be re-educated in methods that will allow them to teach the course to students who otherwise would not take it.

"Our teachers do a good job of teaching Algebra II — to the kids who (choose to) take it," Green told The Daily.

The group also questions a part of the new plan that includes two years of a foreign language, pointing out that only the University of Michigan, among state colleges, requires a foreign language for admission, The Daily reported.

"I can understand where (administrators) are coming from, but they might be reacting a little too much," Rep. Brian Palmer, chairman of the House Education Committee, told The Daily.

Palmer said the state needs to upgrade graduation requirements so that diplomas earned anywhere in the state mean the same thing.

The Macomb Daily, "Grad requirements concern educators," Jan. 22, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Hope in State Graduation Standards Misplaced," Jan. 3, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Credit Conundrum," Dec. 12, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "State-mandated graduation requirements presented," Nov. 22, 2005, "House Bill 5606"

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 148,000 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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