Contents of this issue:
  • Black River charter public school experiments with merit pay
  • Supreme Court rules against race-based school assignments
  • Saginaw School District struggles to keep students
  • Pinckney schools see savings from health insurance switch
  • Senate votes to require uniform calendar for school districts
  • Comment and win book money

HOLLAND, Mich. — Black River charter public school has set aside $60,000 for merit-based bonuses next year. These awards will be granted to groups of teachers who meet certain achievement goals, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

The Black River model for merit pay is considered unique because its goals are based on achieving academic goals that are set and assessed by teams of teachers. Merit pay in public schools is usually determined by parent satisfaction surveys, an increase in enrollment or standardized test scores, The Press reported.

One team consists of fine arts teachers who may set goals like increasing the number of public performances, attracting more students to the theater program and better integration of music and art education. Teams that meet their goals will receive bonuses of up to 3 percent of each teacher's salary. The team leader will receive twice as much, according to The Press.

Forms of merit pay are uncommon in conventional public school districts because the teachers' union opposes it, believing "merit" is hard to determine, The Press reported. Charter public school educators are often paid slightly less than teachers in conventional public schools, but it is common for charters to offer merit pay because the schools are usually more flexible without a union presence, The Press reported.

"We wanted to provide an incentive to reward and retain excellent teachers," Dave Angerer, Black River's head of school, told The Press.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Black River to pay teachers merit bonuses," June 29, 2007

Michigan Education Report, "Districts report some success on teacher pay incentives," May 24, 2007

Michigan Education Report, "Should teachers be paid based on merit? Yes," Aug. 18, 2004

DETROIT — The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to reject plans established in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., to use race as a determining factor when assigning students to schools, according to The Detroit News.

The court's ruling may affect plans, like busing students across district boundaries, used to desegregate schools. Proponents of these desegregation plans say the decision is only promoting a re-segregation of schools and ignoring precedents set by Brown v. Board of Education, The News reported.

"The intention of the U.S. Supreme Court is to end all the hard-fought progress toward integration we have made," Shanta Driver, national spokeswoman for the civil rights group BAMN, or By Any Means Necessary, told The News. "They will not succeed."

Michigan has been grounds for many recent debates over school diversity policies. In 2003, a 5-4 decision by the court ruled that the University of Michigan would have to stop using its point-based affirmative action program for admissions, but could still use certain tactics to increase racial diversity on campus. In November 2006, voters passed Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment to restrict the use of gender and race in college admission policies, according to The News.

Some scholars argue that this may be the decision needed to truly desegregate school districts.

"In the immediate wake of the Brown ruling, the NAACP and others championed voluntary school-choice programs as a viable avenue toward improved integration," Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom wrote in a column appearing in the New York Post. "Many civil-rights leaders have forgotten choice in the half-century since, but it has retained the interest of scholars and activists. And their verdict is in: Choice works."

The ruling should not affect many, if any, school districts in Michigan because of the widespread use of the Schools of Choice program. Betty Robinson, a parent of two children in Southfield Public Schools said the court ruling doesn't mean much because students are not required to attend the school to which they are assigned, The News reported.

"Things have changed so drastically since Brown v. Board of Education," Robinson told The News. "Oakland County has open enrollment."

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race," according to The News.

The Detroit News, "Top court limits role of race in schools," June 29, 2007

Coulson, Andrew, "Beyond 'Brown'," The New York Post, July 2, 2007 beyond_brown_opedcolumnists_andrew_j__coulson.htm?page=0

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling," Jan. 29, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000

SAGINAW, Mich. — The Saginaw School District is attempting to alleviate an $8 million budget deficit, but is facing more difficulty as it sees hundreds of its students leave each year, according to The Saginaw News.

Parents are seeking alternatives to Saginaw schools as the district considers cutting programs and 120 jobs, including almost 60 teachers. The district also will have to borrow $17.5 million to cover expenses until it receives its first state payment of the fiscal year in October, The News reported.

"When (districts) lose services, it makes them less attractive," Sharif Shakrani, co-director of MSU's Educational Policy Center told The News. "The first opportunity (people) have to go to another district, they will. When you need them the most, they are available the least."

The schools are anticipating a drop in enrollment of 600 students and plans to solicit parents through phone calls and post signs around neighborhoods. Saginaw Board of Education President Norman Braddock thinks the district needs to examine the reasons why parents are taking their children elsewhere.

"Is it because of us, or is there some other factor?" Braddock said, according to The News. "If it's us, we have to figure out what we have to do to keep them."

The Saginaw News, "Exiting parents get hard sell," June 26, 2007

Michigan Education Digest, "Detroit Public Schools develops recruitment plan," May 29, 2007

Michigan Education Report, "Advertising for students: Schools use radio, TV, billboards to lure 'customers,'" May 24, 2007

Michigan Education Digest, "Ypsilanti schools compete for Ann Arbor students," Jan. 16, 2007

PINCKNEY, Mich. — The Pinckney Community Schools have settled on a $37.4 million budget for the 2007-2008 school year that includes no raises for staff, but also cuts no positions because of savings from its health insurance coverage, according to the Livingston Daily Press & Argus.

Last year, 97 percent of district teachers voted in favor of switching health plans from one administered by the Michigan Education Special Services Association to one purchased from Blue Cross Blue Shield, according to Michigan Education Digest. MESSA is a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association school employees union. The schools are seeing a decrease of 3.72 percent in premiums and have saved between $700,000 and $800,000, the Daily Press & Argus reported.

Livingston Daily Press & Argus, "School board poised to approve $37.4 M budget," June 28, 2007

Michigan Education Digest, "Pinckney teachers voluntarily abandon MESSA," Feb. 7, 2006

Michigan Education Report, "MESSA reports $65 million revenue gain in one year," May 24, 2007

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

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate passed legislation that would require all school districts in the same intermediate school district to have uniform school calendars over at least a five year period, according to The Detroit News.

The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Ron Jelinek, hopes that this would help save costs for districts as well as increase convenience for families with students in different districts, The News reported.

"Families who have multiple children attending different schools in the district, either full-or part-time, will benefit from having the same vacation schedules at all of the schools," Jelinek told The News. "(Intermediate school districts) that have students attending programs from multiple schools have found the different breaks are disruptive to the learning process because half the students are on vacation one week, and the next week the other half are gone."

Proponents of service consolidation support this legislation because it may make it easier for districts to share busing and food services. Opponents argue that this may remove the flexibility of individual school districts to implement their own cost-saving measures. The bill will now move to the House for a vote, according to The News.

The Detroit News, "Senate requires uniform school calendar," June 27, 2006

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School District Consolidation, Size and Spending: an Evaluation," May 22, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "What Really Determines School District Spending?" June 4, 2007

MIDLAND, Mich. — Go to and post a comment for a chance to win a $50 book gift certificate.

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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