Contents of this issue:
  • MESSA at heart of Ironwood deadlock

  • Mandatory funding increase group faces major opposition

  • New Howell high school might not open on time

  • Districts could get money for losing students

  • Detroit school janitor shot

  • Security tightens in East Detroit schools

IRONWOOD, Mich. — Health care costs continue to dominate labor talks between the teachers union and Ironwood schools, according to the Ironwood Daily Globe.

Both sides have filed fact finding briefs with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, the Daily Globe reported. Health insurance for teachers costs the district more than $16,000 a year per teacher, double what it was five years ago. The insurance is through the Michigan Education Special Services Association, a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association.

"The association believes that the school district's deficit is irrelevant, provided that its membership continues to have unmatched benefits entitlement and higher salary," the Daily Globe quoted the district's brief as saying.

The MEA, which is representing its Ironwood members, argues in its brief against a proposed $10,800 cap on yearly health insurance costs.

"There are many ways for employees to help offset district costs for health insurance. The least beneficial means is that of requiring the employees to return monies to the employer in the form of a cap," the Daily Globe quotes from the union's brief. The union goes on to say that the cap "places an unreasonable burden on its employees." The cost of MESSA's Super Care I plan is $1,352 a month, according to the brief quoted by the Daily Globe. The district, in turn, calls that level of coverage "extravagant."

"The fiscal health of the school district and its goal to educate students cannot be compromised to continue with self-centered 'entitlement' at public taxpayer expense," the Daily Globe quoted from the district's brief. "These same taxpayers have no equivalent insurance coverage, yet are expected to fund the teachers' overly generous and highly inflated benefits at nominal cost to teachers merely because the teachers want it."

The union countered that health insurance costs have always been paid by the district, dating back to the first contract in 1967, and that teachers have begun paying a portion of premiums while forgoing salary raises, the Daily Globe reported.

Ironwood Daily Globe, "Negotiations in deadlock," Feb. 17, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "UP teachers threaten job actions," Jan. 17, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "UP students add voices to labor battle," Jan. 24, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," Nov. 1, 1993

LANSING, Mich. — Several statewide organizations are publicly opposing an effort to mandate annual funding increases for public education, according to The Saginaw News.

Groups representing law enforcement, townships, counties, home builders, real estate agents and chambers of commerce are against the effort, which would mandate that public schools, community colleges and universities receive yearly funding increases equal to the rate of inflation, The News reported.

"It's irresponsible to lock something like this in to the Constitution," David Bertram of the Michigan Townships Association told The News.

Those opposed to the mandatory increase say it would cost an additional $1.1 billion in tax money the first year alone, The News reported. Those who favor the increase say it will cost $700 to $800 million.

The group backing the proposal says it has enough petition signatures to either ask the Legislature to address the matter or put it before voters in November, according to The News. It says the mandate is needed to offset revenue lost since 2001.

"We'd like a legislative resolution to this," said Ken MacGregor, a spokesman for those who favor the mandatory increases.

Sen. Mike Goschka, R-Brandt, said the effort is "doomed to fail," according to The News. He said if the mandatory increases become law, other areas of the state's $4.3 billion budget may have to be cut.

"We're going to have to put criminals on the street by cutting the corrections budget," Goschka told The News.

Opponents also say such a mandatory funding hikes could force the state to increase taxes on every Michigan resident, The News reported.

The Saginaw News, "Numerous groups oppose K-16 mandate," Feb. 13, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "Jen and the art of education," Aug. 15, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Rally for the Classroom, Not the Budget Process," June 21, 2005

HOWELL, Mich. — Howell Public Schools might not open a new, $97 million high school in 2007 as planned, according to The Ann Arbor News.

"Right now, it would be our recommendation to not open the school," Superintendent Chuck Breiner told The News.

Construction on Parker High School began in 2004. District officials say they have cut $6 million from the budget in recent years and must cut another $2.4 million before fiscal year 2007 begins July 1, The News reported.

"The bottom line is, we can't open that school unless we have the money," school board Treasurer Mike Hall told The News. "But opening that building is the least of our problems — it's keeping it operating."

Breiner told The News that Parker would cost $2.2 million to run, with more than $560,000 of that coming in the form of additional teacher and support staff costs.

School board Secretary Jeannine Pratt suggested a class-action lawsuit that Howell and other districts could file against Michigan, claiming the state does not adequately fund public schools, The News reported.

Howell now receives $6,875 per-pupil from the state school aid fund, The News reported.

School Board President Sue Drazic said it will be difficult to tell taxpayers why the school cannot open, The News reported.

"I don't think our public is going to understand why we've got a brand new building that they approved that we can't open," she told The News.

The Ann Arbor News, "Parker opening in jeopardy, say school officials," Feb. 17, 2006

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

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

Michigan Education Digest, "New Detroit high school has structural problems," Jan. 31, 2006

LANSING, Mich. — School districts with dwindling enrollments would receive more money under Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposed budget, according to Booth Newspapers.

Some $50 million would be distributed among 240 districts with declining enrollment, with the largest amount going to urban schools, Booth reported. Detroit Public Schools would receive an additional $19 million, and Flint $2 million. Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Lansing would each receive more than $1 million.

That money is on top of the proposed $200 increase in the per-pupil foundation grant of $6,875, Booth reported.

Legislators have reacted in a variety of ways to the proposal. Rep. Glenn Steil Jr., R-Grand Rapids, thinks the extra funding could reduce school districts' incentive to compete for students, Booth reported. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, said he was not sure if the additional revenue would be available to support the proposal.

"Detroit public schools get $19 million of the $50 million," he told Booth. "I think legislators around the state will ask if that's fair to their districts."

In Kent County, superintendents from school districts that enroll "schools-of-choice" students from Grand Rapids Public Schools rejected a plan to let the urban district keep a portion of the per-pupil state foundation grant that is tied to those students, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Under Michigan's public school choice laws, students who are assigned to one school can attend a different school within their intermediate school district or in a contiguous intermediate school district. The per-pupil funding follows the student to the new school, The Press reported.

Superintendents in Kent County had discussed a plan to allow GRPS to keep a portion of those tax dollars for four years after the student enrolled in his or her new school. The idea was tabled due to lack of support, The Press reported.

More than 800 students who were previously assigned to GRPS chose other schools last year, with more than half picking schools in three neighboring districts, Wyoming, Forest Hills and Caledonia, The Press reported.

Booth Newspapers, "Lawmakers mull extra money for schools losing students," Feb. 24, 2006

The Grand Rapids Press, "Districts unwilling to give GR refund," Feb. 18, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling: Restoring Parental Control of Education," Jan. 29, 2001

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

DETROIT — A janitor at a Detroit public school was shot in the leg and robbed last week, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Chanhdy Phommarath, 65, was standing outside McMichael Middle School Friday when two men stole his cell phone and $50, the Free Press reported. Phommarath was shot in the right leg.

No students were in the school because last week was winter break for Detroit Public Schools, the Free Press reported. This was the 30th armed robbery at a DPS building this school year.

The Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit recently committed to recruiting 2,000 volunteers to patrol the district's schools, the Free Press reported.

The Detroit Free Press, "School janitor shot in Detroit," Feb. 24, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit seeks school security volunteers," Feb. 21, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "DPS still seeking solutions to school violence," Jan. 24, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Two students stabbed at Detroit high school; shots fired," Jan. 17, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit school shootings," Dec. 13, 2005

EASTPOINTE, Mich. — More security guards and ID badges will cost taxpayers in East Detroit Public Schools about $160,000, according to The Detroit News.

Students at East Detroit High School must now wear the identification badges around their necks, The News reported. A security door, opened only by a buzzer, also will be installed. Students late to school will have to pass through it, The News reported.

A total of seven new security guards will be hired, five of which will be added to the existing eight at the high school. The other two will be assigned to the district's two middle schools, according to The News.

More fighting among students prompted the district to take the action, The News reported.

"We're not experiencing any more difficulty with students than any other high school or middle school," board of education Trustee Corrine Harper told The News. "But there is a handful of kids who get into confrontations, and that makes these kinds of measures necessary."

The Detroit News, "Eastpointe students get ID tags, more security," Feb. 6, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Livonia schools will add police presence," Jan. 17, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "The three P's of school safety," Nov. 1, 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 (http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 148,000 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

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