Contents of this issue:
  • DPS board member charged with assault
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools to open prep academy
  • Schools want money for buses after state examination
  • Saginaw charter school enrollment four times national average
  • Bangor schools considers election consolidation
  • Comment and win an iPod

DETROIT — The Detroit Board of Education is determining whether it will take any action against board member Marie Thornton after she was charged with assault for a confrontation at a September school board meeting, according to The Detroit News.

Thornton received a misdemeanor assault and battery charge and a charge for disorderly conduct after engaging in a confrontation with Rev. Loyce Lester, 60, of Detroit. The assault charge carries a maximum 93-day jail sentence and/or a $500 fine. Disorderly conduct carries a maximum 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. In addition to these charges, the board of education is also considering sanctions, a censure or removal from the board entirely.

According to Lester, Thornton called him names and spilled food on him. He reports having a scratch on his chin from the incident. Thornton reports that Lester called her a derogatory name and shoved her, forcing an act of self defense. Thornton now believes she is being targeted by the board for her outspoken behavior and dissenting opinions, according to The News.

"I believe they are trying to silence me because I don't vote the way they vote," she told The News. "Being a good member doesn't mean you rubber stamp; it means you research." She noted her votes against school closures and contracting, The News reported.

Board President Jimmy Womack said her behavior is regularly inappropriate.

"Marie Thornton, at least one time in her life, needs to take responsibility for her own actions and stop pointing the finger of blame," Womack told The News, adding that the board is also investigating Lester's role in the incident. "Marie Thornton has called people names while sitting at the board table and given people the (middle) finger. She has continued to be a disruptive element to this board."

Parent Chris White is concerned with the lack of professionalism among board members in general, and does not want to see Thornton ousted, according to The News.

"The climate needs to be addressed when a board meeting ends up in court because of arguing," White told The News. "The real onus falls back on the president."

The Detroit News, "DPS board investigates member charged in scuffle," Oct. 17, 2007

Michigan Privatization Report, "Education Management Organizations: Managing Competition," Aug. 13, 1999

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids Public Schools, in partnership with private companies, is planning to open a university preparatory academy in the fall of 2008, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

The Grand Rapids University Prep Academy is modeled after a charter school in Detroit that graduated 95 percent of its first class, while 93 percent of graduates continued on to post-secondary education. The school will start as a middle school and will seek to provide rigor and support for underachieving students, The Press reported.

The pilot school will be governed by the GRPS Board of Education and receive some funding from donations made by private companies and individuals. These donations are expected to pay for the building and equipment, while taxpayer money will go towards creating small class sizes, according to The Press. The school also has an advisory board of business leaders who will make recommendations to GRPS Superintendent Bernard Taylor regarding policies and staffing. Members of the school's advisory board include Brian Cloyd of Steelcase, Inc., Steelcase CEO James Hackett, Autocam CEO John Kennedy and others.

"The best way to make improvements in a community is to find something that works and try and replicate it, so I'm really enthused about this idea," said Milton Rohwer, president of the Frey Foundation and a member of a group that worked with Taylor to develop the idea of a public-private partnership, according to The Press.

The Grand Rapids Press, "GR Prep Academy to open in 2008," Oct. 17, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Dearborn: A Traditional Public School District Accepts the Charter School Challenge," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000

MONROE, Mich. — After a recent statewide examination of school buses, some districts are looking for ways to finance new buses and repairs, according to the Monroe News.

In Monroe County, many districts passed the exam without concern. Every bus in the Airport, Gibraltar, Ida and Milan school districts passed state safety standards. Seven out of 16 buses were marked for repairs in the Summerfield Schools, and the district has now adopted a maintenance plan that includes checking the buses after every 1,500 miles instead of ever 2,500 miles. District Superintendent Jack Hewitt says the schools are taking responsibility but that the roads really cause a lot of the damages, the News reported.

"Our roads really beat up our buses," Hewitt told the News. "But we don't want people to think that our buses are not safe because they are. For the most part, the repairs were quick."

Within the Monroe Public Schools there has been a push for setting aside funds for new buses. Last year, the district purchased five buses, but according to the district's transportation director, Ron Smith, that wasn't enough to maintain a quality fleet of buses, according to the News.

Examinations are completed by inspectors from the Michigan State Police School Bus Safety Inspection Program and score the buses on a 198-point scale. Buses that don't pass the inspection are given either a red or yellow tag, based on the severity of the problem, the News reported.

Monroe News, "Schools get better with bus safety," Oct. 17, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A School Privatization Primer," June 26, 2007

SAGINAW, Mich. — A national study found that charter school enrollment in Saginaw is four times the national average, with one out of every seven students attending one, according to The Saginaw News.

Saginaw fell within a group of 28 cities in 12 states, including Washington, D.C., that had at least 13 percent of students enrolled in charter schools during the last school year. Four other Michigan cities were on the list, including Detroit, Pontiac, Southfield and Dearborn. More than 500 students assigned to the Saginaw school district have enrolled in other schools since the fall of 2006.

"The question for me is not that we can keep up with charter schools. It's that we're providing the best education that we can," Superintendent Gerald D. Dawkins told The News. "We hope that their parents select us on our merits."

About 6 percent of Michigan students attend charter schools, placing the state third in total charter enrollment. About 100,000 students are enrolled in charters, according to Todd M. Ziebarth, a policy analyst for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, The News reported.

"It doesn't surprise us," Dan Quisenberry, executive director of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, told The News. "Parents are looking for quality schools. When they don't find them, they'll look for alternatives."

The Saginaw News, "Charter schools thriving," Oct. 18, 2007

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

BANGOR TOWNSHIP, Mich. — The Bangor Township Schools could save between $10,000 and $11,000 each election if it moved the date from May to November, according to The Bay City Times.

Since 2004, Michigan schools have had the option to consolidate their elections, typically held in May, with municipal elections in November. If districts take advantage of this, they pay nothing to place an issue on the ballot. However, districts do have to pay full election costs if its issues are the only ones being voted on. Since the election consolidation law was passed, about 70 districts have switched dates, The Times reported.

Although the district is interested in saving money, board Trustee Tim Allen is concerned that important education issues will be overlooked.

"My concern is that school issues are really vital," Allen told The Times. "Schools really are a major focus in many of our communities. It loses something if we say we're going to put them on a long ballot with 65 other names and 65 other issues."

Janet Santos, Bangor Township clerk, finds that argument invalid and thinks election consolidation will actually help voters.

"We find that Bangor voters are educated voters," Santos told The Times. "They know what's on their ballots ... I have faith in our voters that they're not going to miss anything. And they care what happens in their school system. And when the township and schools can save that much money in one year, it's a no brainer."

The school board will likely vote on the issue at its Nov. 19 meeting.

The Bay City Times, "Bangor schools may switch to November elections," Oct. 22, 2007

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

MIDLAND, Mich. — Go to http://forum.educationreport.org and post a comment for a chance to win one of three iPods.

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Sarah Grether at

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