Contents of this issue:
  • Holton staffers drop MESSA

  • Charter school students perform well on MEAP

  • Community college employees ask for cheaper MESSA

  • Holland teachers threaten illegal strike

  • Ann Arbor schools paid consultant $372,000

  • Flint schools prepare for enrollment drop

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Support staff personnel in the Holton schools have willingly abandoned a union-affiliated insurance provider in favor of a less expensive health insurance plan, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

More than 50 custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, secretaries and teacher assistants agreed to the contract, which is retroactive to 2003, The Chronicle reported. It includes a 1 percent wage increase next year.

The employees will switch from the Michigan Education Special Services Association Supercare I plan to what Superintendent John Fazer calls "nearly identical" coverage through a health savings account with SET SEG, The Chronicle reported. The new insurance will cost taxpayers just over $1,000 a month per employee, compared to MESSA's cost of $1,360 a month per employee. Employees will pay no deductibles under the less expensive insurance, The Chronicle reported.

MESSA is a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association. The district expects to save about $130,000 the first year by getting rid of MESSA, The Chronicle reported.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Holton, Whitehall decide they won't privatize busing," April 25, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MESSA Reference Page," March 10, 2006

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

Michigan Education Digest, "Districts consider busing contracts," March 21, 2006

LANSING, Mich. — Charter schools outperformed their neighboring conventional public school district on a majority of 2005 MEAP tests in 18 areas across Michigan, according to information released by the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

The comparison, developed by the Michigan Department of Education, compared charter schools to their "host districts" in 18 cities, MAPSA reported. Charter schools outperformed their conventional counterpart on 19 of 27 tests, and tied on three others.

"This academic success — topping state averages, closing achievement gaps, succeeding in Michigan's urban centers — affirms the reason parents, educators and community leaders first created charter schools 12 years ago," according to Dan Quisenberry, president of MAPSA. "(It)also affirms that charters are a vital piece of the solution as the state works to reinvigorate its entire system of public education."

Statewide, one-fourth of all charter schools exceeded the state average on 10 or more tests, while in Detroit, more than half of the 39 elementary/middle school charters exceeded the state average on at least one test. Five Detroit schools topped the state average on 10 or more, according to MAPSA.

Charter school students in Lansing outperformed the conventional public school students on all sixth, seventh and eighth grade tests, while greater percentages of charter school students in Grand Rapids were proficient on every test, most by 20 to 30 percentage points.

"Families of all walks of life are choosing charters because they want their children to excel," Quisenberry said. "Charters are vastly popular in urban settings nationwide, often because parents feel like their children finally have a fighting chance to do well in school."

In the 18 districts the Department of Education studied, the percentage of proficient charter school students with disabilities was higher than their conventional public school counterparts by 6 to 15 percentage points in five tested areas; Hispanic students scored better by 6 to 12 percentage points; and black students by 2 to 7 points.

Michigan Association of Public School Academies, "MEAP Results Affirm Charter Progress," April 25, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's Public Charter Schools See MEAP Scores Rise Faster Than Regular Public Schools," Sept. 4, 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Statewide MEAP scores mixed," Aug. 15, 1999

PETOSKEY, Mich. — Faculty and staff members at North Central Michigan College have voluntarily switched from MESSA Supercare I to MESSA Choices II, according to the Petoskey News-Review.

The Michigan Education Special Services Association is a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association. The Association of Faculty and Professional Staff asked the college to reopen its contract, then accepted the less expensive insurance, the News-Review reported. The change will save the college about $194,000 the first year.

"That's really extraordinary," college President Cameron Brunet-Koch told the News-Review. "One of our major goals is to keep our education affordable. Their action is going to help us continue to do that."

The contract also was extended, with staff getting 3 percent raises in 2007-2008 and 2.75 percent raises in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, the News-Review reported.

Petoskey News-Review, "College budget up 4 percent overall," April 19, 2006

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

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

HOLLAND, Mich. — The union representing teachers in the Holland Public Schools could take a strike vote before the next contract bargaining session with district officials, according to two Grand Rapids media sources.

Both WOOD TV and The Grand Rapids Press say the Holland Education Association will hold a strike vote Wednesday, May 3. The next contract talks are scheduled for May 16. Teacher strikes in Michigan are illegal under Public Act 112 of 1994.

"The agenda remains the business of the HEA," local union President Charles Bullard told The Press, refusing to confirm or deny reports of a strike vote.

The main point of contention in talks between the union and school is teacher health insurance. Holland Superintendent Frank Garcia said at a recent education forum that the district will not back down from a change to less costly insurance, The Press reported.

The school board earlier declared an impasse in negotiations, which allowed the district to implement an insurance plan for teachers that is purchased directly from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, The Press reported. The less expensive insurance replaced coverage provided through the Michigan Education Special Services Association, an administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association.

The new, less expensive insurance allows the district to pay for employee premiums and deductibles, according to The Press. Carol Minnaar, director of human resources for Holland schools, told The Press that the district has saved so much money with the new insurance, it is now giving up to $230 a month extra to each teacher.

Tension in the district heightened in April, when an e-mail targeting Garcia was sent to staff members by union leaders, The Press reported. The note referred to the administrator as "Farmer Frank," and said Garcia is "reaping a pretty healthy crop of hard feelings, mistrust, apathy, wariness and tempers, which are frayed and fragile," according to The Press. Garcia, a former migrant farm worker according to The Press, said the e-mail was "extremely disrespectful and uncivil." In an e-mail to staff, Garcia said using district computers to spread "personal, racist and unprofessional attacks," would not be tolerated, The Press reported.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Holland won't back down on insurance, superintendent says," April 28, 2006

The Grand Rapids Press, "E-mail about 'Farmer Frank' called 'extremely insensitive,'" April 28, 2006

WOOD TV, "Holland teachers to hold strike vote Wednesday," May 1, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland teachers skip student events," April 25, 2006

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

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

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ann Arbor Public Schools has paid a consultant more than $372,000 since early 2004, according to The Ann Arbor News.

Jack Baker, who once applied to fill a vacancy on the Ann Arbor school board, has received the money for work done in association with a bond for a new high school currently under construction, as well as other financial matters, The News reported. Baker's involvement has raised questions.

"I can't really say if he's been good to have at the district or not, but it seems like he's doing work someone in the administration building should have been doing," parent Kim Shea told The News.

Superintendent George Fornero told The News that Baker "helped us do a lot of things we didn't understand."

Baker, a former IBM executive, also has construction experience, The News reported, having been a partner with Blue Hill Development, which has worked on projects at the University of Michigan.

Baker was involved with the legal aspect of the bond, along with the negotiation of architectural and construction contracts, The News reported. Baker also helped Fornero explain why the new school was $3.3 million over budget, according to The News.

"I have no formal power at all in the district, but I do have some influence," Baker told The News. "It's really satisfying to me to see that these projects are helping students."

The Ann Arbor News, "Consultant paid $372K by schools," April 24, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "More school construction problems in Ann Arbor," March 14, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Ann Arbor schools want to learn from charters," April 11, 2006

FLINT, Mich. — Flint Public Schools is predicting enrollment could drop by as many as 900 students next year, according to The Flint Journal.

The district in April issued pink slips to 110 teachers in anticipation of the decline, and is expecting as much as a $10 million deficit, The Journal reported.

The pink slips went to 75 elementary school teachers and 35 secondary teachers, The Journal reported. Nine administrators also received layoff notices.

"We were shocked because most of our folks had been told there wouldn't be any pink-slipping this year or very little pink-slipping this year," local teachers union President Steve Burroughs told The Journal.

The Flint school board in March approved a school reform plan drawn up by Superintendent Walter Milton Jr. that called for hiring 150 math and reading coaches and teachers, as well as elementary music, art and physical education teachers, according to The Journal.

Pink slips were given to 150 Flint teachers in April 2005, although most of them were called back for the 2005-2006 school year, The Journal reported. Dale Soper, a teacher in the district since 1998, has been on the pink slip list every year since 2001, and has been called back each year.

"I'm waiting for the time they don't do it," Soper, who lives in Clio, told The Journal. "I still check around during the summer, put my name in here and there."

The Flint Journal, "Pink slips upset head of teachers union," April 26, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Saginaw schools consider staff layoffs," April 11, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "Mott Middle College High School," March 7, 2006

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of nearly 150,000 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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