Contents of this issue:
  • Substitute teachers privatized in Grand Rapids

  • Detroit to get new charter school

  • Two Brighton schools close after teachers call in sick

  • Otsego teachers will pay more for expensive MESSA insurance

  • Jackson schools will privatize again to save money

  • Teachers union taken to task in Muskegon-area school elections

  • DPS to close eight more schools

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids Public Schools' decision to privatize substitute teachers could save the district $300,000 a year, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

The school board voted 6-3 last week to assign the hiring and scheduling duties for about 2,600 substitute teachers to Professional Educational Services Group of Caledonia, The Press reported.

The company will be paid a fee equal to 16.9 percent of each substitute teacher's salary, according to The Press. Substitutes are paid $85 per day. The school will save money because it no longer will have to make contributions into the state-run retirement system on behalf of the subs.

"This will create a more efficient system and will not hurt subs," Superintendent Bert Bleke told The Press. "And anytime you have a way to save money and not hurt human beings, you have to take a hard look at that."

The Grand Rapids Press, "Substitute teaching goes private," May 2, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Privatized subs can save schools money," April 11, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Fennville district to outsource substitute teachers," March 23, 2004

Michigan Education Digest, "Grand Rapids board privatizes busing," Aug. 16, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "GRPS private busing gets positive reviews," Sept. 6, 2005

DETROIT — A second Detroit charter school backed by philanthropist Bob Thompson received approval from Grand Valley State University last month, according to The Detroit News.

The Grand Valley board of trustees issued a charter to Public Schools Academies of Detroit. The Thompson Foundation, which applied for the charter, said University Prep Math and Science could open in 2008, The News reported.

New Urban Learning, which runs Thompson's first charter school, University Prep Academy, also will oversee the new school, according to The News.

State law allows as many as 15 new charter high schools within the city of Detroit, but Thompson's efforts have been opposed by the Detroit Federation of Teachers. Thompson previously has said he would spend $200 million to open the schools, The News reported.

The Detroit News, "Board paves way for new Detroit charter high school," April 26, 2006 SearchID=73243637930555

Michigan Education Report, "Bob Thompson renews $200 million offer," Dec. 15, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Support creation of new Detroit charters," Dec. 15, 2005

BRIGHTON, Mich. — About 1,600 students were denied instruction May 5 when two Brighton middle schools closed after 60 of 90 teachers called in sick, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Free Press also reported that the incident was due to on-going contract negotiations, including disagreements between the school district and teachers union regarding pay and health insurance.

"There's a lot of frustration," Brad Gibson, chief negotiator for the Brighton teachers union, told the Free Press.

Assistant Superintendent Jim Craig said disciplinary action against the teachers is being considered.

"We're concerned about anything that disrupts the education of the students," Craig told the Free Press.

The two sides are supposed to resume contract talks May 12, according to the Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, "Teachers expected back in Brighton schools Monday," May 6, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Teacher sick-out forces Detroit schools to close," March 28, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table," Aug. 1, 1998

OTSEGO, Mich. — Otsego teachers will pay more money if they want to keep an expensive union-affiliated health insurance under a new four-year contract, according to The Kalamazoo Gazette.

Teachers who pick Super Care I through the Michigan Education Special Services Association will see their share of premiums increase from 7 percent this year to 12 percent next year, and 15 percent after that, The Gazette reported. Those who take the less expensive MESSA Choices II plan will see premium costs drop from 5 percent to 4 percent. MESSA is a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association.

Teachers ratified the contract in late April after nearly a year of negotiations, according to The Gazette.

"I credit the teachers for agreeing to it," Superintendent Dennis Patzer said.

The contract also ties pay increases to student enrollment, The Gazette reported. In the fourth year, teachers would receive a 2.5 percent raise if enrollment drops by 125 students or more; a 3 percent raise if enrollment remains the same; and a 3.5 percent raise if enrollment increases more than 125 students.

The Kalamazoo Gazette, "Otsego teachers, school board enter long-awaited pact," May 1, 2006

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

Michigan Education Digest, "Otsego bus drivers drop MESSA," Nov. 29, 2005

JACKSON, Mich. — About 15 bus drivers and supervisory riders in the Jackson Public Schools could be privatized as the district attempts to reduce a $1.7 million budget deficit, according to The Jackson Citizen Patriot.

The move would save the district about $300,000, The Citizen Patriot reported. In addition, 26 staff positions could be eliminated — including 15 teachers — and 10 paraprofessionals would be moved to part-time status.

Privatization is a proven money saver for JPS, according to The Citizen Patriot. Deputy Superintendent William Hannon said the district saved $1.2 million last year by privatizing 51 custodial jobs.

The Jackson Citizen Patriot, "JPS eyes plan to cut 52 jobs," May 2, 2006

Michigan Privatization Report, "Enviro-Clean Services Rated in Jackson Survey," Feb. 24, 2006

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

MUSKEGON, Mich. — The Michigan Education Association and some of its local union affiliates are being accused of recruiting sympathetic write-in candidates to run in several Muskegon-area school board elections, The Muskegon Chronicle reported two days before the May 2 school elections.

"I think it's a tactic. It's a political ploy," Whitehall board member Michael Sutton told The Chronicle. "I think their attempt was to fly under the radar until the last minute."

Sutton told the newspaper he and fellow board member David Gundersen believed they were running unopposed for re-election, and therefore planned "low-key" campaigns. Two write-in candidates, including a retired MEA bargaining consultant, later entered the race. Other write-in candidates entered school board races in Reeths-Puffer, Montague, Muskegon and two communities in neighboring Oceana County.

Several area school districts have discussed privatizing busing, The Chronicle reported, which many believe was a factor in the campaign.

"It's (privatization) definitely lit a fire and got people involved that weren't before," Rick Chilcote, a write-in candidate in Reeths-Puffer, told The Chronicle. "It woke people up to what's going on with our school board."

Chilcote's sister-in-law is a bus driver in the district, according to The Chronicle.

Linda Kelly, a Mona Shores school board member who won re-election, said she does not mind the MEA backing candidates, but believes their campaigns should be above board, The Chronicle reported. Kelly said write-ins could have success against unopposed incumbents because of low voter turnout.

"I have to question some of the tactics they're using," Kelly told the newspaper.

Muskegon-area districts had six write-in candidates running in various school board races, all of whom lost, according to The Chronicle.

Write-in candidates do not have to collect nominating petition signatures or pay filing fees, The Chronicle noted. They must alert their respective county clerk of their intent to run by the Friday before an election.

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Union concerns heat up elections," April 30, 2006

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Write-in votes finally tallied in school races," May 4, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Collective Bargaining Politicizes Local School Boards," Aug. 1, 1998

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How School Employee Labor Unions Politicize Government Schools," June 23, 1999

DETROIT — Detroit Public Schools plans to close eight schools, according to The Detroit News.

"We may have to close more schools than what is being recommended," school board President Jimmy Womack told The News. "I need to know that the number of schools we are closing will keep us in compliance with the deficit elimination plan."

DPS closed 29 buildings last year, The News reported. The district's enrollment continues to decrease, and estimates show it could dip below 100,000 students in the next four years. The News said students who leave the district often exercise their legal rights and choose to enroll in charter schools or in neighboring districts.

Fumiko Pickens, whose daughter had to change schools after hers was closed last year, does not want to repeat the process, The News reported.

"I'll probably just take her out of the Detroit Public Schools," Pickens told The News. "If I got to keep on jumping her from school to school, I might as well go to a good school."

The Detroit News, "Detroit may close 8 schools," May 5, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Independent schools growing in metro Detroit," April 4, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit school enrollment down more than expected," March 28, 2006

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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