Contents of this issue:
  • Hartland teachers willing to sacrifice jobs for insurance

  • Eligibility questions in Kalamazoo Promise

  • Trimesters gaining popularity

  • Bay City teachers take pay freeze, cheaper MESSA

  • Michigan to be pilot state for Arabic studies

  • State wants colleges to better prepare teachers

  • Hillsdale offering free teacher seminar

HARTLAND, Mich. — Teachers in the Hartland Consolidated Schools are unwilling to renegotiate their health insurance plan, a decision that could lead to teacher layoffs and privatization of custodians, according to the Daily Press & Argus.

The district asked the teachers union to open its contract and change health insurance plans from the Michigan Education Special Services Association to a Blue Cross package, the Press & Argus reported. MESSA is a third-party insurance administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Bacon said if the union were to cooperate, costs would be lowered enough so that the jobs of custodians could be kept in the district, according to the newspaper. Privatizing janitorial services and eliminating 29 custodian jobs would cut costs by $500,000, the Press & Argus reported.

Teachers last year did agree to open their contract and switched from MESSA Supercare I to MESSA Choices II, cutting costs by $600,000, the Press & Argus reported. Teachers in the Pinckney schools, the newspaper pointed out, abandoned MESSA Choices II in January, opting for the Blue Cross Flexible Blue, saving the district $800,000.

As many as 14 Hartland teachers also could lose their jobs if a $1.5 million budget deficit is not eliminated, according to the Press & Argus.

John Denzer, president of the Hartland teachers union, told the newspaper the teachers are not responsible for the situation. The newspaper said Marty Devitt, president of the maintenance and custodial union, could not be reached for comment.

Daily Press & Argus, "Teachers balk at renegotiation talk," April 9, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Contract Out School Services Before Laying Off Teachers," Nov. 20, 2003

Michigan Education Digest, "Pinckney teachers voluntarily abandon MESSA," Feb. 7, 2006

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — About a third of the graduating seniors in the Kalamazoo Public Schools do not meet eligibility requirements for a college scholarship fund established last fall, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette.

The "Kalamazoo Promise," announced last November and funded by private donations, will pay up to 100 percent of tuition for KPS students enrolled since kindergarten, the Gazette reported.

Students who enrolled after kindergarten, but before ninth grade, qualify for 65 percent. Eligible students must reside in the district.

About 200 of 450 seniors do not qualify, the Gazette reported. The residency status of another 100 students remains unknown.

"We're not going to be looking at a lot of appeals," Robert Jorth, executive director of The Promise, said during a meeting with parents, the Gazette reported. "We're going to be pretty firm on the requirements."

Jorth did say, however, that the donors changed one eligibility requirement, so students will not have to go directly from high school to college to qualify.

"The donors want as many students to go to college as possible, and they recognize some students may need to work to earn money for expenses, such as room and board," Jorth said, according to the Gazette.

Scholarship offers will still expire after four years for each graduating class, the Gazette reported. Students who delay entering college or take a break during college will receive fewer years of funding.

Kalamazoo Gazette, "Kalamazoo Promise eligibility clarified," April 3, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "K-Promise: A whole new environment for Kalamazoo," March 7, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Charters, independent schools not worried about K-Promise," Nov. 29, 2005

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Several high schools in West Michigan have switched to or are considering a trimester system, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

"I think it's a very educationally sound way to reset our class schedules," Holton schools Superintendent John Fazer told The Chronicle. "(Students) take a fewer number of classes in a day for a longer period, which allows different instruction to take place — for teachers to use a lot of different learning methods to address the learning styles."

Holton and Orchard View will switch next year, joining Muskegon Heights, Spring Lake and Newaygo County schools, according to The Chronicle.

Holton students, for example, will take five classes that are 71 minutes each, compared to the current seven classes that last 51 minutes each, The Chronicle reported. The trimesters will run 12 weeks, replacing two 18-week semesters.

Some see the change as an effective way to adapt to new high school graduation requirements imposed by the state, The Chronicle reported.

Troycie Nichols, Holton High School principal, said the change should reduce behavior problems in hallways since students will change classes less often, The Chronicle reported. Nichols also said taking fewer classes at a time should allow students to focus on what they are studying.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Educators support trimester concept," April 5, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Legislature approves four-day school week," June 17, 2003

BAY CITY, Mich. — Teachers in the Bay City Public Schools have agreed to a one-year pay freeze and a less costly health insurance plan, according to The Bay City Times.

The contract runs from June 2006 until June 2007 and was approved 374-64 by the local union, The Times reported. The changes will reduce costs by about $2.4 million.

The insurance change will move teachers from the Michigan Education Special Services Association's Supercare I to Choices II, The Times reported. MESSA is a third-party insurance administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association. The Supercare I plan costs the district about $14,000 per teacher per year, while the Choices II plan will cost about $12,500 a year per teacher. Those who want to keep the more expensive MESSA plan can pay a difference of between $90 and $160 a month, according to The Times.

Further budget cuts including layoffs and building closures, The Times reported, as the district addresses a $7.4 million deficit.

The Bay City Times, "Bay City teachers agree to one-year pay freeze," April 11, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Bay City schools could save $4 million with insurance change," Feb. 21, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Bay City to close schools, cut staff," March 21, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "School districts wrestle high health care costs," March 7, 2006

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan could get several million dollars from the federal government to teach Arabic in schools over the next decade and a half, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Called the "National Strategic Learning Initiative," the program would be run through the U.S. Department of Defense's national security education program. President Bush plans to ask Congress for $114 million to pay for it, of which Michigan would receive $700,000 a year for 16 years.

The Center for Language Education at Michigan State University will help determine specifics, such as where the Arabic classes would be taught, how many students would be taught and how the grant money would be awarded, the Free Press reported. If the money is made available, the pilot will begin at the elementary school level in at least two Michigan school districts.

"Parents need to advocate for their school systems to do this," Robert Slater of the DOD told the Free Press. Slater added that the program will have the best chance of succeeding if it's done in cities where the language being taught is already spoken by people.

The broader language initiative also will include teaching students Mandarin, Hindi and Farsi at schools across the country, the Free Press said.

Detroit Free Press, "Embracing Arabic: State to get language grant," April 4, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Foreign Language Follies," Nov. 1, 1996

Michigan Education Digest, "School administrators question graduation requirements," Jan. 31, 2006

LANSING, Mich. — State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says the colleges producing Michigan's school teachers need to do a better job, according to The Detroit News.

More than 20 percent of teacher candidates from five Michigan colleges failed state certification tests on their first try between October 2001 and July 2004, The News reported. The colleges are University of Detroit, Olivet College, Rochester College, Sienna Heights University and Wayne State University. Flanagan said a process will be in place by June to evaluate schools of education and what they do to prepare future teachers.

"It's not going to be automatic anymore," Flanagan told a group of superintendents, according to The News. "We are saying, 'Step up to it. You are going to be part of the solution or you won't get renewed.'"

Colleges could lose their ability to certify teachers if too many graduates are found to be teaching in failing public schools or if too many fail certification tests, The News reported.

A review system has been in place since the early 1990s, The News reported, but focused mainly on course content. A new system, most likely conducted every five years, would focus on performance.

"There is no intrinsic motivation to fix the problems," Flanagan told The News. "We want to give them the motivation to fix those problems."

The Detroit News, "State warns colleges: Prep teachers better," April 16, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Declining Standards at Michigan Universities," Nov. 1, 1996

Michigan Education Digest, "Study concludes teachers who leave cost state millions," Aug. 23, 2005

HILLSDALE, Mich. — Economics, social studies, civics and history teachers are invited to participate in a free summer seminar July 16-22 as part of "The Gillette Company Economics for Leaders Program."

The seminar takes place on the campus of Hillsdale College and will be led by Gary Wolfram, Munson Professor of Political Economy at the school. The program is based on the National Voluntary Standards in Economic Education.

Room and board is free, and each participant will receive a $150 stipend. Credit hours are available, and three SBCEUs are free of charge for Michigan public school teachers.

Visit for more information, or call (800) 383-4335.

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of nearly 150,000 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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