Contents of this issue:
  • Last-minute employee contract avoids strike at Kentwood

  • 'Proposal 1' effects on education debated as Nov. 2 approaches

  • Gaylord union representative does not rule out eventual strike

  • Michigan high school students improve most MEAP passing rates

  • Grade schools redesign report cards, drop letter grades

  • New York suit alleges city schools illegally limit student transfers

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Press reports that negotiators for the Kentwood school district and the school employees' union last week reached a last-minute settlement to avert a possible strike that might have paralyzed the district's operations.

A two-hour meeting among school employees last Monday led to the agreement, which was then unanimously approved by the Kentwood Board of Education. "It was the realization that, where we were heading, there was going to be a point of not turning back," Board President Sandi Talbott told the Press. "Now we can refocus on educating our children. ... That's what we're here for."

The new contract provides a compromise between the district and school employees over the cost of health care, the main point of contention in the bargaining. Under the agreement, the district will fully cover costs for a PPO-style health plan that is called "Choices II" and is offered by MESSA, an insurance provider originally established by the Michigan Education Association. If teachers wish to keep their existing MESSA plan, they will have to pay the difference between Choices II and the current plan.

To help the district pay for the health plan, teachers made concessions on salary and seniority "step-pay," with about 70 percent of teachers relinquishing between $500 and $2,400 in annual pay raises triggered by increased experience and seniority, according to the Grand Rapids Press. The concession was generally more costly for new teachers than it was for those with more experience.

The Kentwood employee union had voted last month to authorize their leaders to call a strike if negotiations did not bring a settlement. The contract agreement ended 18 months of bargaining. "Under the circumstances, I think this is the best deal possible," Earl Gull, a district support staffer, told the Press. "It's not everything we wanted. But the Board of Education and the unions have been working on this for 18 months, and I think this is the best deal we are going to get."

Teacher strikes in Michigan are illegal under longstanding state law, but changes instituted by Public Act 112 of 1994 increased the number of violations and stiffened the penalties. Teachers in Kentwood last walked the picket line in 1980.

Grand Rapids Press, "Quick approval seals Kentwood school deal," Oct. 12, 2004 109759247636870.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A New Day for Michigan Schools," April 1995

Michigan Education Report, "Detroit Teachers Illegally Strike," Fall 1999

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Analyst Says: Close Teacher Strike Loophole That Allowed Anti-Charter School Protest," October 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Failure of Anti-Strike Law to Deter Teachers Calls for New Measures, Analyst Says," September 1999

CADILLAC, Mich. — School and community groups are in a heated battle over a proposed state constitutional amendment that would affect the way gambling venues are approved, with some leaders decrying the movement's alleged affect on statewide school funding, the Cadillac News reports.

The effort, called 'Proposal 1,' would, if approved by voters next month, require regional voter approval for new gambling venues, including racetrack casinos and lotteries. Education leaders and some state officials, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, say the amendment would reduce state monies for education, which come partly from state gambling revenues. Cadillac Area Public Schools Superintendent Paul Liabenow told the Cadillac News that the law "will significantly hurt school funding."

But a Detroit News analysis of the proposal contends that if it is passed, the effect on school funding will be limited. State gambling revenues used for education last year totaled $586 million, the News reported, which is about 5 percent of the $12 billion state budget for education. "Approval of Proposal 1 likely wouldn't have a drastic immediate effect on lottery sales, and warnings of a negative impact on education are exaggerated," opined the News.

Cadillac News, "School funding underlying issue in Proposal 1 debate," Oct. 18, 2004

Detroit News, "School funding loss from Prop 1 limited," Oct. 18, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Legislature May Give Away $1.6 Billion 'Racino' Windfall," April 2004

Michigan Privatization Report, "Place a Bet on Lottery Privatization," Winter 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Recommendations to Strengthen Civil Society and Balance Michigan's State Budget — 2nd Edition," May 2004

GAYLORD, Mich. — The Gaylord Times Herald reports that a representative for the local Gaylord teachers union did not rule out the possibility of a teacher strike in Gaylord if the "vast majority" of the teachers approved it and if contract talks and subsequent mediation between union officials and the school district failed.

The 225 teachers of the Gaylord Education Association are the only employee group still without a contract in the district; support staff, bus drivers and food-service staff are not involved in the current negotiations. The teachers' most recent contract expired at the end of August.

Terry Cox, a Uniserv director for the Michigan Education Association and lead bargainer for the Gaylord teachers, told the Times Herald she would not rule out the possibility of a strike, reportedly saying, "It isn't called civil disobedience for nothing." She added, however, that any such action, which the Times Herald described as "hypothetical," would require a failure of both negotiations and ensuing mediation, and it would proceed only if there were strong support from the membership. Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan under state law.

Board officials say negotiations are difficult because the board has not received concrete figures for state aid. "Salary, benefits, those sorts of things have not been discussed to anyone's satisfaction," said Gaylord District Board Member Mark Vaporis, according to the Times Herald. "What the board is struggling with is what the board can afford. ... We have to bargain with unknown numbers."

Gaylord Herald Times, "TEACHER STRIKE TALK?; MEA negotiators won't rule out strike at Gaylord Community Schools," Oct. 13, 2004 top_stories/top_stories01.txt

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A New Day for Michigan Schools," April 1995

Michigan Education Report, "Detroit Teachers Illegally Strike," Fall 1999

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Analyst Says: Close Teacher Strike Loophole That Allowed Anti-Charter School Protest," October 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Failure of Anti-Strike Law to Deter Teachers Calls for New Measures, Analyst Says," September 1999

DETROIT — The state's high school students posted better pass rates on standardized tests in three of five academic subjects this year, according to The Detroit News.

The tests were taken primarily by high school juniors and administered in the spring as part of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program. A record 105,000 high school students took the reading, math and science MEAP tests this year.

The percentage of students who met or exceeded state standards in reading, science and social studies increased over the figures for last year's high school class (the Class of 2003). In reading, the percentage of students receiving a passing grade rose more than 9 percentage points, from 66.8 percent in the Class of 2003 to 76.2 percent in the Class of 2004. In science, the increase was around 2 percentage points, from 61.1 percent to 63.4 percent, while in social studies, the improvement was close to 10 percentage points, from 25.5 percent to 35 percent.

In math and writing, however, lower percentages of students met or exceeded state standards. Math passing rates declined from 59.8 percent last year to 58.7 percent this year, and writing rates fell from 60.9 percent last year to 57.8 percent this year.

Detroit News, "State's high school MEAP scores improve," Oct. 14, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How Does the MEAP Measure Up?" December 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "POLICY BRIEF: Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" May 2002

DETROIT — Districts in the Metro Detroit area and around the state are redesigning report cards by replacing traditional letter grades with ratings on students' competency in a number of areas, including academic skills and behavior, according to The Detroit News.

Grade schools in Livonia, Allen Park and Roseville are moving from the traditional letter-grade system in order to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires schools to monitor students in a number of areas other than academic results.

The new systems of measuring student progress will require parents and teachers to learn how to decipher the new categories and marks in each.

In Livonia, for instance, students will be graded in a number of different categories depending on their grade level; sixth-graders will be evaluated on six reading skills and seven writing skills, among a number of other skills categories, the News reports. Marks in each category will range from "1" to "4," with "4" being the highest level of achievement. Students achieving above a level 4 will receive a "4" with an arrow symbol, indicating achievement above the numbered scale. In addition, students will receive a C, U, S or W for "consistent," "usually," "sometimes" and "area of weakness," respectively.

State officials say that although they have no official figures on the number of districts pursuing the new monitoring systems, they have noticed similar changes around the state. "We're seeing a trend where more schools are starting to not only measure these benchmarks, but also communicating them to the parents," Michigan Department of Education spokesman Martin Ackley told the News.

Detroit News, "Report cards drop A, B, C's," Oct. 14, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Fall 2002

Michigan Education Report, "President signs 'No Child Left Behind Act'," Winter 2002

NEW YORK — According to The New York Times, a New York Supreme Court case filed by a New York City parent alleges that the city's Department of Education limited the number of students allowed to transfer from failing schools, violating the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Federal law requires schools to allow parents to transfer their children if their schools are deemed "failing" by New York state standards and receive federal anti-poverty money. But according to the suit, the district failed to allow parent Jessica Lopez to transfer her 5-year-old twins out of a failing Queens elementary school.

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced this year that the district would limit the number of transfers from failing schools in order to keep from overcrowding schools that would receive the students. Klein defended the district, saying that although no transfers have been granted one month into the school year, none have been rejected. "We're in compliance with No Child Left Behind," Klein said, according to the Times. "We're doing it sensibly, intelligently and doing what's right for our kids."

The suit identifies a small class of students — fewer than 5,000 — as plaintiffs. But Charlie King, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the class would be expanded to include all students currently attending failing schools — more than 300,000 children.

New York Times, "Schools Are Breaking Law on Transfers, Suit Charges," Oct. 16, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Fall 2002

Michigan Education Report, "President signs 'No Child Left Behind Act'," Winter 2002

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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