Contents of this issue:
  • Audit finds errors in school statistics
  • Schools suing state over background checks
  • Escanaba teachers get raises linked to health care costs
  • Former superintendent pleads no contest
  • Detroit teachers union looks to recall school board president

DETROIT — A state Auditor General's Office report shows that several schools across Michigan maintain incorrect records on graduation and dropout rates, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Auditor General's office reported an inability to get records from some districts, and an absence of reliability in reports it does receive. Some districts, for example, show 100 percent graduation rates while also reporting dropouts in the same class, the Free Press reported.

"When you put something out that is this inaccurate and has these kinds of holes, you're doing a disservice," Kurt Metzger, who collects dropout and graduation statistics for the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, told the Free Press.

Greg Bird, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said Michigan has no plans to correct the inaccurate figures.

"This is self-reported data; these schools are given an appeals process," Bird told the Free Press.

Some say the state should take steps to make sure the information is accurate, because the data is used to determine yearly progress standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"I don't understand why you would use something that you know is wrong," Dan DeGrow, superintendent of St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency, told the Free Press. "It affects local districts on AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and other things, and it's not fair for them to go ahead and use it if it's wrong. It's not enough that they publish it and people see it, there are actual consequences for it."

For example, the audit found Bath High School, which reported a 100 percent graduation rate for the class of 2003, actually graduated 84 percent, while Ypsilanti Lincoln High School, which graduated more than 80 percent of students in 2004, reported a graduation rate of just 43 percent that year, according to the Free Press.

Detroit Free Press, "School rankings don't add up," Sept. 29, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "Graduation rates an imperfect measure of school excellence," Feb. 15, 2002

Michigan Education Digest, "Editorial: inflated data hinder education reform," Jan. 7, 2004

LANSING, Mich. — About 460 school districts from across Michigan are suing the state over requirements in the Student Safety Initiative laws, according to The Detroit News.

Designed to protect students from criminals working in schools, the laws require school employees to be fingerprinted by July 1, 2008. The suit, filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals, says the requirement is a violation of the Headlee Amendment to the state constitution, which prohibits unfunded mandates, The News reported. The districts are seeking funding for the cost of the fingerprinting, which is about $65 per employee.

"Out of our general funds we have to get the money to pay for fingerprinting," Thomas Owczarek, president of the Warren Fitzgerald school board, told The News. "It's just not fair, and we want to recoup the money that is rightfully owed to us by the state."

The Detroit News, "Police checks rile schools," Sept. 29, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Some convicted felons still working in schools," July 5, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "List of felons forwarded to schools," May 16, 2006

ESCANABA, Mich. — The teachers union in Escanaba has agreed to tie pay increases to the cost of health care premiums, according to The Daily Press.

Teachers will get a 2.75 percent raise this year, but the second year could vary from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent, based on how successful the district is at containing health insurance costs.

Teachers agreed to continue paying $50 a month towards premiums, but will pay a larger share toward their own prescription drug coverage, The Daily Press reported.

"Negotiations is (sic) always a tough process," Dan DeLong, president of the Escanaba teachers union, told The Daily Press. "We had our differences, but I feel we worked out a contract that is fiscally sound for the district and gives us an adequate raise."

The district still is negotiating with unions that represent support personnel and administrators.

The Daily Press, "Teachers' pay raise linked to health care," Oct. 7, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Decades of Dollars and Disappointment," Oct. 6, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Marquette teachers accept less costly MESSA insurance," Aug. 29, 2006

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A former west Michigan public school superintendent pleaded no contest to charges of embezzlement, according to Booth Newspapers.

Wes VanDenburg, who served as superintendent in Caledonia and Belding, agreed to pay each district $1,500 restitution, along with lawyer and accountant fees and court costs, Booth reported.

A person who pleads no contest does not admit guilt, but accepts the court's sentence. VanDenburg is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6 in Kent County Circuit Court.

Caledonia officials found 41 receipts that they said had been fabricated, and said VanDenburg was paid twice for 26 others, according to Booth. Prosecutors in Ionia County dropped charges against VanDenburg associated with Belding schools.

Booth Newspapers, "Former Caledonia superintendent pleads no contest to embezzlement," Oct. 7, 2006 1160240956173690.xml&storylist=newsmichigan

Michigan Education Digest, "Former MEA union official pleads guilty," July 11, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Judicial Board Censures Kalamazoo Union President for Misusing Funds," July 19, 2005

DETROIT — The Detroit Federation of Teachers union wants to recall school board President Jimmy Womack, according to The Detroit News.

"We're very dissatisfied with his leadership," DFT President Janna Garrison told The News.

The DFT executive board voted to start a recall campaign because, Garrison told The News, Womack would not give in to union demands during contract talks.

Womack said a recall attempt lacks merit, especially since many DPS teachers do not live in the district.

"I'm not here to make the popular decision, but what I think is the right decision: putting the children and district first," Womack told The News.

The Detroit teachers union conducted an illegal strike, which denied instruction to students for several days, before agreeing to a new contract last month.

The Detroit News, "Detroit teachers union works to oust board president," Oct. 4, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Classes resume after Detroit teachers end illegal strike," Sept. 19, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit teachers union wants more money," June 27, 2006

Michigan Education Digest, "Study: Detroit graduation rate worst in the nation," June 27, 2006

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 150,000 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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