Contents of this issue:
  • Senate approves funding increases for schools
  • MESSA finds loophole in insurance reform law, causes delays
  • Spring Lake board of education may have violated meetings act
  • Muskegon-area schools strive to remain competitive
  • Linden teachers receive raises
  • Comment and win an iPod

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate approved a $13.4 billion K-12 public school budget, which includes per-pupil funding increases ranging from $71 to $142 for each district, according to the Associated Press.

Under the plan, all districts will receive an additional $71 per student in funding, and the schools with foundation allowances of $7,204 will have that additional per-pupil funding doubled. Districts with foundation allowances at or above $8,433 will receive the smallest increase, the AP reported.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm had suggested revising the system in a similar fashion to help close gaps in foundation allowances among districts. The Senate implemented her idea, but reduced the size of the increase due to a concern that tax revenues could be lower than projected, according to the AP.

The Associated Press, "Senate approves spending plan for public schools," March 26, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/news-52/1206566346293490.xml& storylist=newsmichigan

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "State Budget Process," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Michigan Education Special Services Association has found a loophole to delay the release of group claims information that was meant to allow effective competitive bidding on health insurance for Michigan school districts, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

But MESSA, a third party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association school employees union, claims that the law was actually written in a way that allows more time for it. The delay means health benefits competition won't play a role in employee contracts being negotiated this year, The Press reported.

In a letter to MESSA Executive Director Cynthia Irwin, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop sought an explanation for data requests that had not been granted. "It's time for MESSA to fully comply and release the claims data," he wrote. "The debate over the law is finished."

The law, which went into effect on Dec. 1, 2007, states that claims data "is required to be compiled beginning 60 days after the effective date of this act." MESSA began compiling information on Dec. 1. Irwin told The Press that before the law was passed, MESSA did not sort claims by district, but by geographic regions. MESSA plans to release data for December, January and February sometime next month, according to The Press. Even with the loophole, the new law still has merit, according to a senior legislative staffer.

"We are ahead of where we were before this bill was enacted," Mike Gallagher, chief of staff for Rep. Mark Jansen, a sponsor of the legislation, told The Press. "It's baby steps. We knew this would be a challenge."

The Grand Rapids Press, "Teachers union finds loophole in reform law, will release some data soon," March 31, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "MESSA says no to requests for insurance information," Feb. 29, 2008

SPRING LAKE, Mich. — Concern has been raised that the Spring Lake Board of Education may have violated the Open Meetings Act when selecting two final candidates during its superintendent search, according to the Grand Haven Tribune.

Dawn Hertz, general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, said it is unclear if the board had a quorum during its March 15 deliberations. The board interviewed the final two of six superintendent candidates and recessed after the interviews were completed. During the recess, board members were observed talking in different groups. When the board reconvened the meeting, no discussion took place over two motions to advance two candidates to a final interview. The first motion was unanimous; The second vote was 6-1, the Tribune reported.

"What we don't know is if they were simply passing information along, or if they were deliberating," Hertz told the Tribune. "If they are just polling each other, and never repeated what person A said to person B, or what C said to D, then that's OK. But if one member is having a discussion with each other member and telling them what Cindy Lou thinks or what Joe thinks, then the (Open Meetings) Act kicks in."

The Michigan Open Meetings Act governs any actions by a public governing body when a quorum, or majority of members, is present. The act requires the governing body to conduct almost all business in an open meeting. This includes discussions prior to decision making and voting.

"The court says you can't do indirectly what must be done directly in an open meeting," Hertz told the Tribune.

Open Meetings Act violations could result in a lawsuit by someone who thought a decision was reached in violation of the act. When concern was raised about the decision, the board re-voted at a March 17 meeting with the same result, according to the Tribune. "(The vote was taken) because we had some people concerned about this very thing," Board President Madonna Kramer told the Tribune. "We had sought counsel and they said we're in the right, but we decided just to not make the public feel uncomfortable with the process."

Grand Haven Tribune, "Spring Lake school board's candidate selection process questioned," March 25, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School District Checkbook Register Report," March 13, 2008

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Muskegon-area public, private and charter schools are becoming aware of the importance of creating, maintaining and promoting quality programs, as competition for state dollars becomes increasingly important, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

"Our whole funding mechanism is based on the number of students within the school system," Fruitport Community Schools Superintendent Nick Ceglarek told The Chronicle. "If a particular school system loses children, they lose funding, which results in a diminished capacity to offer programs."

The Chronicle reported that many public school districts and private schools are experiencing declining enrollment due to low birth rates, families moving out of the area for economic reasons, or parents choosing other public school districts.

Schools have responded by allocating funds for marketing and advertising programs. Most of the public school districts in the Muskegon area have agreed not to specifically target students from outside their district, but can still promote themselves, The Chronicle reported. Schools now market themselves by renting billboard space, posting residential signs, airing radio commercials and sending mass mailings to keep current students and attract new students. The West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics in Ferrysburg is a K-8 charter school with a waiting list. Floyd Strandberg, the Academy's director, purchased an electronic billboard on U.S. 31. He paid $15,000 for the sign and saw the benefits of the purchase early, according to The Chronicle.

"The day we put the sign up, three people came in to enroll their children, so it pretty much paid for itself," said Strandberg. "We advertise our arts program, and that we are a public school with no tuition."

Some schools are using interactive technology to attract parents and students. The Greater Muskegon Catholic Schools' Web site contains video testimonials from students, alumni and staff. The site also includes a virtual tour of the school's facilities with proposed upgrades. Superintendent Robert Bridges said it took a while to get school leaders on board with active marketing, The Chronicle reported.

"Part of the idea of being a good Christian is being humble. Sometimes we feel a bit funny boasting about ourselves, but we feel we have a great product in that we're a faith-based school focused on academic excellence," said Bridges. "But there are good schools in this area, and we have to really sell this great product."

Many districts and charter schools still maintain that word of mouth advertising has the greatest effect on perceptions.

"The majority of our marketing and/or public relations efforts are focused on providing outstanding customer service, standing behind our philosophy and practice of: 'Our students are worth whatever it takes,'" Muskegon Technical Academy Superintendent Barbara Stellard told The Chronicle. "Delivering on that results in parents and students sharing by word of mouth the attributes of our academy program."

The Muskegon Chronicle, "Promotional pull by schools," March 24, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Conclusion: Competition Is Improving Public Schools for Michigan Children," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Nonresident Student Adjustment Under Sections 105 and 105c," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007

LINDEN, Mich. — The Linden teachers union and the board of education have agreed to a new contract that includes a pay increase and slightly higher prescription co-pays, according to The Flint Journal.

The three-year contract includes a 2-percent raise for 2007-2008 and a 1.5-percent raise for 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. The union also agreed that teachers would pay slightly more toward their prescription coverage. The co-pay for a generic drug will increase from $5 to $10, The Journal reported. The teachers will still receive insurance coverage administered by the Michigan Education Special Services Association, a third party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association school employees union.

"The board is very excited to be able to ratify this agreement," board President Elaine Porter told The Journal. "We think this is a fair agreement for both sides."

The union was also happy with the contract. Linden teachers were previously on a one-year contract, according to The Journal.

"The three-year contract provides stability for the district and our members," LEA President Cathy North told The Journal. "It's a very fair contract for both sides. We realize times are tough for the district but we also realize we are not in the middle of the county in terms of our pay."

The district also plans on offering an early retirement incentive to help pay for the raises, The Journal reported.

The Flint Journal, "Linden teachers get new contract," March 28, 2008

Michigan School Databases, "Michigan School District Collective Bargaining Agreements: Linden Community Schools"

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

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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