Contents of this issue:
  • Pinckney teachers voluntarily abandon MESSA

  • Schools get names of employees with criminal backgrounds

  • Holland discusses closing schools

  • Tawas questions student drug testing

  • Ottawa ISD will establish charter school

  • Katrina evacuees still attending Michigan schools

  • Professor Jay Greene to speak at Lansing luncheon

PINCKNEY, Mich. — Teachers in the Pinckney Community Schools have agreed to a less expensive health insurance plan in hopes of cutting costs and saving jobs, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The 280 members of the Pinckney teachers union voted 97 percent in favor of abandoning the Michigan Education Special Services Association, a third-party insurance administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association, The News reported.

"We are the first teachers in the area to do this," Gloria Sanch, chief negotiator for the Pinckney Education Association, told The News. "That was tough for some of our members, but we understand the great need to save money. Most of our teachers thought this was fair."

Under the new, two-year contract, teachers will get a 1.2 percent pay increase this year, and 2.8 percent next year, The News reported. Deductibles for the new Blue Cross Blue Shield Flexible Blue PPO insurance will be $35 a month, up from the $10 a month teachers paid under MESSA. The district will reduce costs enough, however, that teachers will be reimbursed for deductibles, Assistant Superintendent Brian Higgins told The News.

The union is the latest group in Pinckney Community Schools to give up MESSA, The News reported. Other bargaining units, including support staff, custodians and administrators, switched to Care Choices HMO last year. The change away from MESSA will help reduce costs in the district by about $800,000, The News reported, which should be enough to keep staffing at current levels for the 2006-2007 school year.

The Ann Arbor News, "Pinckney schools may avoid cutbacks," Feb. 3, 2006

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Earning High Marks for Privatization in Pinckney," Sept. 1, 1997

LANSING, Mich. — School districts last week began receiving names of employees who State Police say match people with criminal backgrounds in its database, according to the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.

The State Police last month used the names, dates of birth, race, gender and Social Security numbers of more than 200,000 school employees to search its database, the Detroit Free Press reported. Matches with people convicted of crimes were found, identifying 2,200 felonies and more than 4,600 offenses overall. The release of the information to individual districts was done to comply with a new law that requires schools to remove sex offenders, the Free Press reported.

The largest teachers union in the state, the Michigan Education Association, asked a judge to block the information from being released to the media, arguing that fingerprint searches are more reliable, The Detroit News reported. A Feb. 10 hearing in Lansing will determine if the judge's temporary order should be made permanent.

School districts began getting the information from the Department of Education late last week. Some districts and many local teachers unions said they received information that erroneously accuses employees of having criminal records, the Free Press reported. Tim Bolles of the State Police told the newspaper that "false-positives" are possible in such a check, possibly due to a criminal giving police a fake Social Security number that ends up matching that of a school employee.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan on Friday told school districts to ask local police to conduct a background check on the names of school employees who dispute their presence on the list, The News reported.

The Detroit News, "New guidelines help teachers against false criminal records," Feb. 3, 2006

Detroit Free Press, "Teacher crime records mislead," Feb. 4, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Parents Still Have an Option to Check Kids' Safety," Feb. 2, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Court seals data on school employees with criminal backgrounds," Jan. 31, 2006, "2005 House Bill 4928 (School Safety package)"

HOLLAND, Mich. — Holland Public Schools is considering closing at least three of its 11 buildings in order to balance its budget, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

About 100 people on Jan. 30 attended the first of six meetings to learn more about the proposals. Superintendent Frank Garcia discussed five different scenarios that could reduce costs $1.4 million to $2.1 million, The Press reported. Garcia's presentation focused on the number of buildings that could close, along with the grades and number of students at each school, rather than specific schools. A final decision could come as early as Feb. 20.

Garcia said the district has lost about 1,000 students in the past decade, The Press reported.

The Press said some attendees were not satisfied with the presentation.

"There was a lot of jargon and charts without a lot of substance to the plans," parent Andy Dailey told The Press after the meeting. "I would have liked to see the choices for closing schools spelled out in detail. They didn't look very well prepared."

The Grand Rapids Press, "First school-closing forum gets mixed reviews: Holland parents want more details," Jan. 31, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Union e-mail targets community panel," Jan. 31, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland declares second impasse, teachers get free insurance," Jan. 17, 2006

TAWAS, Mich. — School board members in one Iosco County district are questioning the usefulness of a student drug testing plan, according to The Bay City Times.

Tawas St. Joseph Health System received a $525,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, The Times reported. The money was provided to establish a voluntary, random drug and alcohol testing program in Tawas, Whittemore-Prescott, Hale and Oscoda high schools. Each school board will have to adopt its own policy in order to participate, The Times reported.

"If we could apply this money to extracurricular activities and sports, we'd probably keep more kids off drugs," Tawas Trustee John Freel told The Times.

Another Tawas board member, Tim Kolnitys, pointed out that students who are using drugs and alcohol are unlikely to submit to testing, according to The Times. Kolnitys also said that students who do not participate could be labeled as drug users.

Toni Lehr, director of St. Joseph's Occupational Health Services, told school board members the program could be of great use to students who may not be using drugs and alcohol, but are having difficulties with peer pressure, The Times reported.

Participation requires student and parental consent, according to The Times. Positive test results would be known only by the student, their parents and health officials. No punishment would be involved, but counseling would be recommended.

The grant is the only one awarded in Michigan, and one of 55 nationally, the newspaper said.

The Bay City Times, "Tawas school board members question new drug-testing plan," Jan. 25, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Dare to Privatize DARE," Sept. 1, 1998

Michigan Education Digest, "U.S. Supreme Court to consider school drug testing policies," March 19, 2002

HOLLAND, Mich. — The Ottawa Area Intermediate School District will charter a public school academy focused on alternative education with a vocational emphasis, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

West Ottawa Public Schools and Zeeland Public Schools closed their alternative high schools last year, incorporating elements of those programs into their conventional high schools. In addition, Holland Public Schools plans to close its alternative school, The Press reported.

Ottawa ISD Superintendent Karen McPhee told The Press that the ISD proposed a countywide alternative high school four years ago, but there was not enough interest among local districts. Area superintendents brought the issue back to life eight months ago, and all member districts have approved the idea.

The Press reported that parents and students say alternative high schools are more effective if they are run separately from conventional high schools. The new program will probably have 120 to 150 students, McPhee said.

The Grand Rapids Press, "OAISD to charter alternative high school," Jan. 23, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "What Are Intermediate School Districts?" Feb. 10, 2000

Michigan Education Digest, "ISD officials criticize recent legislation at press conference," Jan. 4, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Eliminate Intermediate School Districts," Aug. 21, 2003

LANSING, Mich. — About 500 students whose families left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina are still attending school in Michigan, according to Booth Newspapers.

About 100 districts across Michigan, including some in the Upper Peninsula, agreed to take in displaced students, Booth reported. The largest concentration, 70, is in Detroit.

Meg Casperson, director of communications for the Louisiana Department of Education, told Booth that more than 70,000 Louisiana students are spread across 46 states. The majority of them are in Texas, which has 44,000.

As part of the federal hurricane disaster relief, schools will get $6,000 for each general education student they took in and $7,500 for each special education student, Booth reported. The money is available to both public and independent schools.

Rose Clark, 32, and her husband Leland Showers, 35, moved with their family of four children to Grand Ledge after a church there offered the use of a vacant parsonage for one year, Booth reported. Both say they would like to stay in Michigan.

"If I could find housing here, I would stay," Clark told Booth. "The environment is calmer, as opposed to a big city like New Orleans."

Showers added that he thinks his children are getting a better education than in New Orleans.

Booth Newspapers, "Michigan schools harbor Katrina evacuees," Jan. 25, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Schools can count Katrina evacuees for funding," Sept. 20, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Michigan schools take in hurricane evacuees," Sept. 13, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Lansing schools offer help to Katrina evacuees," Sept. 6, 2005

MIDLAND, Mich. — Noted author and researcher Jay Greene will be the keynote speaker for a Feb. 9 Issues & Ideas luncheon in Lansing, hosted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Greene received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is chair of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, as well as a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He will speak about his book, "Education Myths," which details 18 commonly held misconceptions about education reform, including the impact of class size, teacher pay and certification.

Lunch is free with reservation. The event runs from noon to 1 p.m. in the Mackinac Room on the fifth floor of the Anderson House Office Building, 124 North Capitol. Call (989) 631-0900 for information.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Issues & Ideas Luncheon"

Manhattan Institute, "Education Myths"

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 148,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Ted O'Neil at

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