Contents of this issue:
  • Districts recycle dismissed teachers
  • Holland privatization increases fund balance
  • Southfield to add math and science academies
  • Leland support staff gets raises
  • Southfield considers competitive contracting
  • Comment and win an iPod

DETROIT — Many school districts in metro Detroit have paid unsatisfactory tenured teachers to leave the district while erasing any records of misconduct, making it easier for them to relocate to other districts, according to the Detroit Free Press.

These settlements may violate state law, which prohibits districts from entering agreements to hide misbehavior, according to the Free Press. Throughout metro Detroit, a sample found that a quarter of teachers who entered into buyout agreements with their district went on to teach in other districts, the Free Press reported.

School officials prefer the buyouts because of the steep costs involved in firing tenured teachers. In Michigan, a teacher usually earns tenure after four years and, after receiving it, can only be fired for abuse of students, sexual misconduct, substance abuse or poor teaching. Before a teacher can be fired, however, school administrators must thoroughly document the problem, offer counseling and provide recommendations for improvement. School districts win 90 percent of tenure hearings, but use buyouts more often, according to the Free Press.

The Dearborn Public Schools spent $178,308 over the last four years to fire two tenured teachers accused of verbal abuse. The district bought out four additional teachers during the same time period, two of whom were charged with sexual misconduct and two accused of substance abuse. The district bought out all four teachers for a total of $233,181.

"If it's going to cost us $150,000 and we're uncertain of the outcome, why not settle it? That's the economically prudent course of action," Tom White, executive director of Michigan School Business Officials, told the Free Press. Some are concerned about the fact that many buyout agreements include language where the district agrees to erase any reference to allegations in a teacher's file, while also agreeing to answer all new employment questions without mentioning any allegations or problems, the Free Press reported.

Detroit Free Press, "In metro Detroit, bad teachers can go on teaching," Dec. 30, 2007

Michigan Education Report, "Tenure law is impediment to school reform," May 12, 2000

HOLLAND, Mich. — Privatization and changes to employee health insurance have helped Holland Public Schools add $2.8 million to its fund balance and spend more money on academics this year, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Holland initially addressed its budgeting problems when many parents chose other options for their children who are assigned to the district. After making changes over the past few years, Holland has not only been able to add to its fund balance, but is also adding $300,000 to the science, music, art, theater and physical education budgets, The Press reported.

"The numbers show that some of the gains are, in fact, being made at the expense of teachers," Holland teachers union President Charles Ballard told The Press.

Holland's fund balance is one of only six among Michigan public school districts to increase in the last year. The district says it was able to do this because of its decision to contract for noninstructional services and by bargaining for teachers to contribute to their own health benefits.

District officials say they could have saved the $300,000 to increase the fund balance closer to the recommended level, but thought the money was better spent in the classrooms.

"We could save the money, and be a little closer to MSBO (Michigan School Business Officials) standards," district Business Manager Bryan Vos told The Press, "but we think spending some in our current budget is what's best for kids."

Two-thirds of the money will be given to the science department, while the rest will be distributed equally among the other budgets, according to The Press.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Holland beefs up science, art, music, fund balance," Dec. 31, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Fund Balance," in "A Michigan School Finance Primer," May 30, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan School Money Report" (select "Holland City School District" from the "District 1" drop-down menu)

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Southfield Public Schools is working to open two academies next year that will focus on math, science, engineering and technology, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The district is hoping to offer programs for high-achieving students and plans to have options for both middle and high school students. The middle school program will be housed in an existing school, while the location for the competitive University Preparatory High School has yet to be determined.

Students will take an admission test in March for the high school program, the Free Press reported.

"We know that in order to attract more people to the district, we're going to have to be above and beyond everyone else. We have to offer things other districts don't," Betty Robinson, president of the Southfield Area Council Parent Teacher Association, told the Free Press.

Southfield has seen sharp decreases in enrollment and hopes to not only provide for its high achieving students, but also to possibly bring students who left for private and charter public schools back into the district, the Free Press reported.

Detroit Free Press, "Southfield schools to focus on kids who excel," Dec. 30, 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

LELAND, Mich. — The Leland schools support staff and board of education have agreed to a one-year contract that will include a 2 percent pay increase while also saving the district $14,000 through health benefits changes, according to the Leelanau Enterprise.

Employee groups agreeing to the contract include food service employees, bus drivers, teachers aides and most secretaries. The district's teachers agreed to a similar contract earlier in November, the Enterprise reported.

In addition, the board discussed plans to take advantage of a new state law and competitively bid for insurance coverage.

Plans are also being formulated to create an insurance pool with Suttons Bay and Northport schools.

Leelanau Enterprise, "School contract OK'd in Leland," Dec. 20, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Selective Moral Outrage," Sept. 24, 2007

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Southfield Public Schools is considering contracting for a number of noninstructional services in an attempt to stop its trend of deficit spending, according to C & G News.

The district has been dipping into reserved funds for four years and reportedly spent $4.3 million of the funds in 2007. Members of the school board note that its primary goal is to protect programs, even as costs rise and enrollment decreases, the News reported.

"This is exploratory," Deputy Superintendent Ken Siver told the News. "The board is in a continuing financial crisis and is looking at all options for a solution."

Southfield's foundation allowance is $11,235 the fifth highest amount in Michigan, the News reported.

There is disagreement, however, over the need for contracting.

Theresa Vernon, a special education bus driver for Southfield, told the board of education, "We're dedicated. Private companies aren't doing what we do," according to the News.

Thom Bainbridge said he'd recently read that the Michigan Education Association school employees union contracts for food, janitorial and security at its East Lansing headquarters.

"It is incumbent upon our Board of Education to employ the best management in the most fiscally advantageous manner," Bainbridge told the News.

C & G News, "School board examines privatization," Dec. 20, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Survey 2007: More Growth in School Support Service Privatization," Aug. 16, 2007

MIDLAND, Mich. — Go to and post a comment for a chance to win one of three iPods.

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper 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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