Contents of this issue:
  • DPS loses 12,000 students, $90 million in revenue
  • GRPS union claims administrators hide school violence problems
  • Northville schools examines contracting
  • Holly schools seeking bids for food service contractors
  • Lincoln parents concerned about schools of choice
  • Schools crunch test data to drive improvement
  • Comment and win an iPod

DETROIT — The Detroit Public Schools lost about 12,000 students in the past year, taking with them about $90 million in state aid, according to The Detroit News.

DPS will receive state funding for 106,485 students, a 10.1 percent drop from last year. The district has lost about one-third of its students since a state takeover in 2000. The trend in declining enrollment is predicted to bring in fewer than 100,000 students next year, which could allow for the establishment of more charter schools in the city. Community colleges are currently prohibited from establishing charters within the city because of the district's status as a First Class school district — the only one in the state. There is currently an attempt in the Legislature to lower the number of students needed to qualify as a First Class district to 75,000, The News reported.

"We would encourage the state to look at a way of defining the largest school district in the state so that there isn't some number that triggers things to happen," DPS spokesperson Steve Wasko told The News. "There needs to be a much more rational way of defining what a First Class district is. Just picking a number doesn't seem to be the most rational way."

But parents are more interested in quality educational options.

"There have been promises made for years, and parents have been waiting for quality schools for years, and enrollment has been dropping. How much more time is needed?" LaMont Corbin, chairman of the Detroit Parent Network, told The News.

The Detroit News, "10% drop in students will cost DPS $90M," April 19, 2008 804190378

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Community colleges: 'Wait and see' on Detroit charter schools," April 7, 2008

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Union officials are claiming that Grand Rapids Public Schools administrators are deliberately hiding the number of violent and drug-related incident reports within the schools, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

The Grand Rapids Education Association argues that schools are unsafe and that administrators cover up violent weapon incidents by categorizing them as "disorderly conduct" or "contraband," which undermines the severity of the problems. The union examined two of 10 boxes of incident reports and found 178 documents that mentioned weapons, as opposed to the 113 the district reported for the 2006-2007 school year, The Press reported.

"It's very clear that the district has misclassified and underclassified these reports," GREA President Paul Helder said, according to The Press. "There is no way their data is accurate. They need to stop trying to hide the truth from the voters."

Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor believes the union is using the school safety issue to get an upper hand in contract negotiations.

"I am sick and tired of these people portraying our students as savage animals, because that is just not the case," Taylor told The Press. "Maybe the problem isn't unsafe schools. Maybe the problem is unmanaged classrooms."

The reports can be filed by any staff member and include space to list the type of incident being reported and a narrative description of the problem. The bottom of the form includes an "offense code" which is added afterward by Larry Johnson, the district's public safety chief. The "offense code" is used for state and federal reports, and the union claims there is a difference between what the code represents and what is actually written in the incident reports, according to The Press.

"I've got 30 years of experience in this field. I don't go into their classrooms and tell them how to teach. They shouldn't tell me how to file reports," Johnson told The Press.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Union: Grand Rapids school reports are misclassified to hide problems," April 18, 2008 union_grand_rapids_school_viol.html

Michigan School Databases, "Agreement between the Board of Education of the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Grand Rapids Education Association 2006-2007" 41010_2007-08-20_GREA_E_X.PDF

NORTHVILLE, Mich. — Northville Public Schools is reviewing bids for custodial and transportation contracts while also planning to accept bids from food service providers, according to The Detroit News.

School officials estimate savings of $400,000 to $1 million by contracting within the three departments. The current budget for these services is about $7 million. The district has already trimmed its budget in other areas, including textbooks, operations and support positions, The News reported.

"We may have to implement some drastic measures to maintain the level and quality of our services. This concept has been out there looming ... options aren't as great in number as they were a few years ago," David Bolitho, assistant superintendent for administrative services, told The News. "Every community agonizes over this, especially if you do have a good work force. This is a tough one."

The district's consideration of competitive contracting follows other metro Detroit school districts such as Southfield, Howell, Pinckney and Birmingham, which have considered or hired contractors, according to The News.

The Detroit News, "Northville schools assess privatization," April 17, 2008 804170364/1026

Michigan Education Report, "Beyond brooms, burgers and buses," Nov. 21, 2007

HOLLY, Mich. — The Holly school district is accepting bids for a food service provider in hopes of alleviating part of an estimated $225,000 deficit in the district's fiscal 2009 budget, according to The Flint Journal.

Holly hopes to save $60,000 by contracting for 20 food service jobs. Assistant Superintendent Steve Lenar said he believes the district could save even more, The Journal reported.

If the district does decide to contract for food service, current employees will automatically be granted an interview. The board voted to contract for custodial services around this time last year, according to The Journal.

The Flint Journal, "Holly School District looks to privatize food service to address $225,000 deficit," April 14, 2008 holly_school_district_looks_to.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Food Service Contracting," in "A School Privatization Primer," June 26, 2007

YPSILANTI, Mich. — The Lincoln Consolidated School District is considering participating in the schools of choice program in hopes of making up for decreasing enrollment, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The district has lost 104 students since September. By opening its enrollment and attracting nonassigned students, the district would earn the per-pupil funding allotment that follows them. Some parents told the board of education they are concerned about traffic problems caused by having more students being driven to school, and about nonassigned students overcrowding school buses. Superintendent Lynn Cleary clarified that a schools of choice district is not responsible for the transportation of choice students, The News reported.

Parent Maria Heningburg was concerned about an influx of students with disciplinary problems. However, a schools of choice district is allowed to refuse students who have been expelled from school or who have been suspended within two years prior to applying, according to The News.

"I don't think (schools of choice) is bad, if our board can do it appropriately," Heningburg said, according to The News. "...I hope (the board) follows the standards of discipline. I don't want money to be their primary reason for overlooking things like discipline."

The Ann Arbor News, "Parents list concerns on Schools of Choice," April 17, 2008 1208443229112790.xml&coll=2

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Foundation Allowance: General Education," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007

OLIVET, Mich. — When Olivet Middle School math teacher Jennifer Ball posed this question on a recent test — "How many 10,000s are there in 200,000?" — she knew not every fourth-grader would answer correctly. But she also knew that wrong answers had the potential to tell her as much as right ones.

So, as educators across Michigan are increasingly doing, Ball used a computer program to tell her which wrong answer was the most popular for that question and others. Using the same program, she also can compare her students' answers with similar questions on state assessment tests as well as to tests given by other math teachers.

When teachers get together to analyze assessment tests in detail, it can lead to insight and academic improvement, teachers and administrators in both conventional public schools and public charter schools told Michigan Education Report for an article about data-driven decision making in Michigan schools.

Michigan Education Report, "Data-driven in Michigan: Schools crunch data to drive improvement," April 22, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Edmonton Public Schools Story: Superintendent Angus McBeath Chronicles His District's Successes and Failures," October 10, 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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