Contents of this issue:
  • Brandywine schools pleased with new janitorial service
  • Portage free speech policy facing scrutiny
  • Ypsilanti schools compete for Ann Arbor students
  • Berrien ISD files unfair labor practice charge against union
  • Grand Rapids area schools move to trimesters

NILES, Mich. — Brandywine Community Schools is saving $170,000 after signing a competitive contract with a private custodial firm, and teachers are thrilled with the quality of service they have been receiving, according to the Niles Daily Star.

The district decided in November to contract with D.M. Burr Facilities Management, a Flint-based company, and has been receiving services since Dec. 26, according to the Daily Star.

"We're hearing rave reviews from classroom teachers," Director of Business and Finance Sue Furney told the Daily Star.

The schools recently broke ties with another private company after both parties "agreed that it was not a good fit," Furney told the Daily Star. Brandywine looked into hiring D.M. Burr because of its work with other districts.

"They have experience in schools. They had excellent recommendations from the districts they already work with," Brandywine Superintendent Gary Rider told the Daily Star.

During negotiations, the district suggested that D.M. Burr increase its hourly wage from $7 to $8, and the company passed the raise on to employees who work in Brandywine schools. The company also increased the number of hours per week that schools are served by custodians, from 64 to 73. D.M. Burr serves two other districts in Genesee County and has expanded by opening an office in South Bend, Ind. They are marking their contract with the Brandywine Schools as a chance for expansion, the Daily Star reported.

Niles Daily Star, "Brandywine schools OK with new custodians," Jan. 10, 2007

Niles Daily Star, "Brandywine school board hires new custodians," Nov. 15, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "Beyond brooms, burgers and buses," Nov. 21, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Oakland County schools save money with competitive contracting," Oct. 3, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "Competitive contracting grows despite myths," Sept. 6, 2006

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Portage school board's code of conduct is under fire for restricting board members' freedom of speech, according to The Kalamazoo Gazette.

Some Republican officials and the state president of the American Civil Liberties Union attended a recent board meeting and called for some of the rules to be eliminated. The Gazette reported that many believe the regulations were drafted in order to prevent Trustee Wendy Mazer from publicly disagreeing with the board. Mazer is seen as more conservative than the other board members, according to The Gazette.

Some on the board were upset about Mazer's comments to The Gazette regarding the rules in an article published before the meeting.

"It bothered me that one of my fellow trustees, rather than sitting down with each of us individually, would choose this forum, the stealth forum, putting information together in an article," Trustee Tom Eddy said, according to The Gazette.

ACLU of Michigan President Jim Rodbard pointed to specific board rules that he believes hinder free speech, The Gazette reported, such as wanting members to refer press inquiries to district leadership and publicly supporting all decisions, even if a particular member voted against the majority.

Board President Shirley Johnson defends the rules.

"The intent of our norms is to accomplish both effective boardsmanship and effective communication," she said, according to The Gazette.

The Kalamazoo Gazette, "Fate of Portage board's conduct rules is unclear," Jan. 10, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Secret Ballot?" May 22, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A voter's checklist for school elections," Apr. 28, 2006

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ypsilanti Public Schools has launched an $8,000 marketing project to bring Ann Arbor students into the district through the state's limited public school choice program, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The district has strategically placed 14 billboards throughout Ann Arbor, one of which is located in an area where many parents opposed a move to redistrict its high school. About 860 of Ypsilanti's 4,100 students attend through schools of choice. About 100 of those come from Ann Arbor, The News reported.

Ann Arbor officials claim they are not concerned about losing students to Ypsilanti this year.

"We believe strongly that our curriculum, especially in high school, is very strong and attracts people to our district," Ann Arbor Public Schools Spokeswoman Liz Margolis told The News.

Ann Arbor does not participate in the schools of choice program, The News reported.

The Ann Arbor News, "Ypsilanti schools ads aim for Ann Arbor students," Jan. 7, 2007

Michigan Education Digest, "Thousands of parents exercise limited school choice rights," July 5, 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

BERRIEN SPRINGS, Mich. — The Berrien County Intermediate School District has filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the Berrien County Intermediate Education Association due to a conflict over health insurance coverage, according to the South Bend Tribune.

The teachers union is proposing that the ISD switch to the Michigan Education Special Services Association, a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association, a school employees union. However, the ISD has not used MESSA in more than 15 years and is currently self-insured, according to the Tribune.

According to Assistant Superintendent Jim Palm, the BCISD has a right under the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act to be the policyholder of any health program offered to its employees. The ISD is filing the unfair labor practice charge because under PERA, negotiating over the policyholder is prohibited, according to the Tribune.

Mike Schroeder, spokesman for the BCIEA, told the Tribune that the district's filing the ULP was a "publicity stunt." Schroeder also said the union has filed several complaints against the district with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

"We feel that's something we should handle internally through the bargaining process," Schroeder told the Tribune.

Currently, the district pays $99,498 a month for health benefits through its current administrator, but would pay $112,917 per month with MESSA, the Tribune reported.

South Bend Tribune, "ISD, union disputing health pact," Jan. 12, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Decades of Dollars and Disappointment," Oct. 6, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "Blue Cross and MESSA," Sept. 6, 2006

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

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Three more districts have joined the group of Grand Rapids area schools moving from a two semester calendar year to trimesters, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Caledonia, Hamilton and Hudsonville have elected for trimesters in response to the state's new graduation requirements, giving students more opportunities to take elective courses. In Caledonia, where block scheduling is currently being used, trimesters will save the district about $200,000, according to The Press.

With the trimester system, students attend five, 75-minute classes a day and can complete a standard two semester course in two trimesters. This allows for easier completion of state graduation requirements, while opening up a trimester for other elective courses, according to The Press.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Switch to trimesters gives school year a new look," Jan. 12, 2007 coll=6&thispage=2

Michigan Education Digest, "Lapeer may switch to trimester system," Nov. 28, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Hamilton looking at trimesters," June 20, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "Hope in state graduation standards misplaced," Mar. 7, 2006

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of approximately 150,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Sarah Grether at

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