Education

The man in charge of the Detroit Public Schools’ finances has put forth a plan that would turn some of the district’s worst schools into charter schools.

Robert Bobb presented his “Renaissance Plan 2012” to the Detroit Board of Education over the weekend.

The plan calls for turning 41 of the district’s remaining 142 schools over to charter operators. District spokesman Steve Wasko says it would allow the district to move at least $75 million in expenses off its books.

“This is an alternative that would allow the Detroit Public Schools to shed all of the operating costs of the identified schools, to be borne by an outside management company or charter operator.”

Wasko says Bobb will identify those schools and open up the application process later this week.

Skeptics question whether the amount of money the plan saves would make up what the district would lose in state per-pupil funding. David Arsen, Professor of Educational Policy at Michigan State University, says it’s not quite clear how the plan would save so much money.

“If the 41 schools are converted to charters, DPS would avoid its current operations expenditures on those buildings. On the other hand, the district would also lose nearly all of the state funding it currently receives for educating the students in those schools.”

The State Department of Education would have to sign off too, because the proposal would change the deficit elimination plan the state ordered Bobb to implement.

Bobb says his proposal would still advance the deficit elimination plan, while avoiding what he calls “draconian” measures, such as shutting down half the district’s remaining schools.

Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office / michigan.gov

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a brief against Eastern Michigan University, alleging the university violated a student’s civil rights. 

Julea Ward was a student in EMU’s masters program for counseling. When she refused to counsel gay students because she’s morally against homosexuality, she tried to refer them to another counselor.

EMU says she violated the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, and removed her from the program. Ward sued EMU in 2009 for violating her constitutional rights.

A federal court in Detroit dismissed the case saying EMU did not discriminate against Ward. Now the Michigan Attorney General’s office is filing an appeal on behalf of Ward.

John Selleck is with the AG’s office. He says this case "would set a standard going forward for other students who have religious objections in any Michigan college case going forward. We think that was a very important reason for us to get involved."

Corvair Owner / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver the main address at the University of Michigan's Spring Commencement this year. The governor will also receive an honorary Doctor of Law degree. From the University Record

Snyder was inaugurated as Michigan's 48th governor Jan. 1. Honorary degrees for Snyder and five additional recipients have been recommended for approval by the Board of Regents at its March 17 meeting.

It is customary for the university to extend an invitation to a newly elected governor to receive an honorary degree and provide the commencement address. The university community is honored that Snyder was able to accept the invitation and looks forward to his address, President Mary Sue Coleman says.

"As a Michigan alumnus and the state's chief executive, Governor Snyder is uniquely positioned to tell our graduates about the challenges and rewards of leadership. We look forward to his message, and to presenting honorary degrees to the exceptional individuals who will join us in celebrating the Class of 2011," Coleman says.

From U-M, Snyder obtained a bachelor's degree in general studies in 1977, a Master of Business Administration degree in 1979, and a Juris Doctorate in 1982.

The University's Spring Commencement will take place April 30th at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Lester Graham

A bill passed by the Michigan House would freeze educators’ salaries during contract negotiations.  It would require employees (and not their employer) to pay for increases in insurance fees during negotiations. The bill would also ban retroactive bargaining. So if an agreement was reached six months down the road, employees would not be reimbursed for the higher rates they paid.

Doug Pratt is with the Michigan Education Association.  He says the M-E-A wants the Senate to reject the bill.

“I’d like to see a real conversation in this state about what’s driving our financial crises. It’s not the compensation we provide to dedicated educators. It’s a broken tax structure; it’s a failure on the part of our state leaders to make tough choices to invest in the kind of state we all want to live in.”

Supporters of the bill say school districts cannot afford to pay the rising benefit costs, nor pay for the raises teachers get with time and experience.

The emergency financial manager for Detroit's public schools is floating a new proposal to cut into the district's costs by turning over the operations of 41 academically struggling schools to outside groups or charter school operators.  

The district says Saturday in a release that Robert Bobb's "Renaissance Plan 2012" would reduce operating costs by up to $99 million and address the district's declining enrollment heading into the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. It also would mean closing fewer schools as called for in a state-approved plan to eliminate the district's $327 million legacy deficit.

The deficit elimination plan would close 70 schools and increase class sizes in some high schools to 62 students. Bobb has said that plan would not be good for the district or students.

mconnors / morgueFile

Officials at Eastern Michigan University are investigating two former student employees who allegedly stole personal information when they worked for the University. At least 45 EMU students could now be vulnerable to identity theft.

Walter Kraft is EMU’s Vice President of Communications and said the university discovered the breach during another investigation. He says the university is working with federal authorities to investigate the breach:

"We’re obviously pursuing it aggressively. Our department of public safety has notified federal authorities that are joining us in the investigation."

Students whose information was compromised have been contacted. EMU officials have not said if the stolen information was used.

Though the investigation is ongoing, Kraft encourages those with questions to visit the University's website for more information.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio News

Flickr user Dextera Photography

The University of Michigan is reviewing its trespass policy after faculty members have requested an update.  The review follows an incident last fall when former assistant state attorney general Andrew Shirvell was banned from campus. He allegedly harassed the U of M student body leader in person and online. The ACLU has complained about banning Shirvell from campus.  

The Detroit News reports that court records show DPS Board president Anthony Adams is not meeting the Board's residency requirements.

From the Detroit News:

The estranged wife of Detroit school board President Anthony Adams has accused him of living outside the city — a violation of board policy.

Deborah Ross Adams, a judge in Wayne County Circuit Court, contends Adams lives in Oakland County, according to court records related to their divorce proceedings, and that he is improperly using their marital home in Detroit's Palmer Woods as the basis of residency for his school board seat.

Adams filed for divorce from his wife in June 2009 in Wayne County after 31 years of marriage. In his filing, he says the couple separated in January 2009.

One board member is quoted as saying she doesn't have any concerns about the matter.

The board's vice president, Tyrone Winfrey, says the school district has more important things to worry about at the moment.

senate.michigan.gov

A Michigan lawmaker says school districts that have set aside a rainy-day fund should use that money, rather than use more taxpayer funds. 

But some school administrators say  that would end up costing districts more in the long run. 

It’s common practice for Michigan school districts to aim for a 15 percent budget surplus for their rainy-day fund.

But the economy has drained those funds for about 300 districts.

About 200 traditional, non-charter districts do have reserves of 15 percent or more.

Kevin Wong / Flickr

The recent debates about school funding and public employee benefits have teachers in Michigan feeling defensive.  South Lyon East High School Social Studies teacher Keith Kindred has these thoughts:

Last year about this time, I did a commentary for Michigan Radio describing the copious amount of time I had to think while I proctored state proficiency exams given to high school juniors. You may remember I used much of that time to reflect on all the wrath being directed at teachers.

Recent events in Wisconsin, Ohio, and even here in Michigan suggest I may have been prescient in recognizing how severe the disconnect between teachers and the public had become, but they also prove that my plea fell on deaf ears. Clearly, the anger I observed a year ago was but a preview and, moreover, my attempt to plead for both common sense and common ground was a failure.

So in the spirit of perseverance that all good teachers instill in their students, I want to try again.

Ready? Okay, here goes: Are people insane?

Carmen Seaby / Flickr

Grand Rapids Public Schools is hosting a meeting Wednesday night and Friday morning to discuss Governor Rick Snyder’s state budget proposal. The district would face a $25 million budget shortfall if lawmakers approve Snyder’s budget.

Snyder is asking lawmakers to approve cutting $470 per student for all public school districts. That’s roughly a 4% cut from what the state sent them last year.

The Michigan Board of Education has extended the contract of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan, the Associated Press reports. The AP reports:

The decision means Flanagan will remain on the job until 2014. The extension doesn't come with a salary increase for Flanagan, who currently earns $183,995.

Flanagan was first appointed State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2005.

cmu.edu

Some officials from universities around the state are saying the Governor's proposed cuts are deeper than the 15% they expected.

The Detroit News had a piece on the reaction over the weekend by reporter Karen Bouffard.

Bouffard wrote "university officials said they discovered the cuts after pouring through the details of Snyder's proposed budget."

Mike Boulus, the executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said the Governor didn't portray the proposed cuts openly:

"I find it less than honest that you would portray the cut as 15 percent, and call additional money an 'incentive' if you keep tuition less than 7.1 percent. It's clearly less than transparent in the way it's been presented."

Governor Snyder's spokesperson said the proposed cuts were portrayed clearly.

To keep their cuts at 15%, universities have to agree to keep their annual tuition hikes under 7.1%.

If they don't, cuts in state aid could be greater than 15%.

The cuts proposed for the 15 public universities in the state average 21%, according to the article.

Some of the specific proposed cuts mentioned in the piece (cuts if universities don't hold tuition increases under 7.1%):

  • 23.3% for Central Michigan University
  • 19% for Eastern Michigan University
  • 21.9% for Grand Valley State University

Some university officials said "they will try to hold tuition increases under the 7.1 percent cap, although they can't be sure until their boards begin approving next year's budgets in June or July."

According to the article, the largest cut universities have seen in the last 32 years was 8.5%.

dianeravitch.com

Diane Ravitch, education historian and author of the book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, spoke at the Novi Sheraton Hotel today at an education symposium about the current state of education and education reform in the country.

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Michigan Education Association.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Ravitch had a welcome audience, getting a standing ovation before and after she spoke at the conference...She said national policy makers say they want to reform education. But, what they’re really doing “is tearing education apart and demonizing teachers.”

She alluded to Detroit as she talked about districts that are eliminating programs, laying off thousands of teachers, getting rid of art education and increasing class sizes, saying it’s kids in Detroit "who need much smaller classes."

Ravitch said poverty plays a big role in the success or failure of students in a school system.

The Grand Rapid Press had more on Ravitch's talk in which she said the United States is in an age of "national stupidity" in terms of how it views education.

From the Grand Rapids Press:

Ravich, a former assistant U.S. secretary of education who had a role in developing No Child Left Behind and the charter school movement, renounced both reforms, saying they've given way to a culture of incentives and punishments through testing that does little to help students...Ravitch said the country can't improve schools by constantly cutting budgets and using standardized tests to paint teachers as ineffective in an attempt to “de-professionalize” the work.

She said that current reforms that rely on test scores are a mistake:

“I take standardized test scores with a grain of salt – make that a ton of salt,” she said. “We've watched a gaming of the system and an increase in cheating because the stakes are so high.”

USA Today and the Detroit Free Press had stories over the weekend on this very subject. Their investigation showed anomalies in standardized test score results - anomalies that suggest cheating may have taken place.

Here is a clip of Ravitch talking about education reform and her book on the Daily Show:

The Daily Show - Diane Ravitch

COCOEN daily photos / flickr

A newspaper analysis shows standardized test score gains from 34 Michigan schools over a one-year period are statistically improbable.

The Detroit Free Press joined a nationwide investigation with USA Today and other partners. The analysis of millions of test score results found 304 schools in six states and the District of Columbia had test scores so improbable they should be investigated.

The analysis that was specific to Michigan scores found that in 2008 to 2009, 34 schools, including 32 in the Detroit area, had test score deviations that statistical experts say are virtually impossible to explain through improved instruction alone.

User thinkpanama / Flickr

The Detroit Public School district received a $231 million dollar loan from the state. 

The loan will help the district with "employee payroll and vendor payments," according to Steve Wasko, a spokesman for the district. He says the loan won't help with any of the district's long term financial problems:

  1. $327 million budget deficit.
  2. $161 million dollars in budget cuts if Governor Rick Snyder's proposed education cuts go through.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek filed a story for NPR about the district's $327 million budget deficit. Here's an excerpt:

With Detroit's public school district facing a $327 million budget deficit, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager has proposed closing half the district's schools and putting up to 60 kids in a classroom.

Robert Bobb admits that his deficit elimination plan could be disastrous for students — he calls it "draconian" — but he may have no choice but to implement it.

In January, he gave the plan to the state of Michigan, warning that it's the only way for Detroit Public Schools to "cut its way out" of its deficit. The state's department of education says that's exactly what Bobb should do.

"We're working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations," Bobb said last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan's most staggering provisions: 60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools.

The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with regional ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Lots of Michigan districts take out short term loans in August to help pay employees and vendors because districts' fiscal year is out of sync with the state’s fiscal year. The Detroit Public Schools district borrows twice a year for cash flow purposes - in August and March.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In Detroit, the school district is grappling with a $327 million dollar budget deficit. That’s led the district’s state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, to put forth a deficit elimination plan that would close half the district’s schools.  

Bobb himself calls the deficit elimination plan “draconian.” In January, Bobb gave it to the state of Michigan, warning it was the only way for the Detroit Public Schools to in his words “cut its way out” of its deficit.

The State Department of Education says that’s exactly what Bobb should do.

“We’re working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations.”

That was Bobb’s cautious take on the subject last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan’s most staggering provisions—60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools. The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with “regional” ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Word of the huge cuts is just trickling down to everyone. Maddie Wright found out when she attended a workshop at the Marcus Garvey Academy on Detroit’s east side. Wright, who’s raising a grandson in the seventh grade, says she doesn’t like the idea of less individual attention for kids—especially in subjects like math, where she struggles to help with homework.

“The way he’s doing it…I don’t know anything. So the only somebody who can help him is some of those younger teachers, that’s been there. Because I can’t.”

Bobb has proposed another alternative. That’s to put the Detroit Public Schools through a bankruptcy process similar to what General Motors did. It would allow the system leave much of its debt behind, and emerge with a new balance sheet.

Detroit State Representative David Nathan, a Democrat, says he’s all right with the bankruptcy option.  But he says state officials have told him that even talking about it will hurt the state’s bond rating.

“We should allow the district to do that. And we should not sacrifice the kids of the city of Detroit to save a bond rating for the state. Those are MY children in that school district.”

But the state’s Education Department nixed that option. State Republicans are also pushing legislation that gives state-appointed financial managers broad powers, including the right to throw out union contracts. Democrat Nathan says he’s working on a compromise bill that would avoid both bankruptcy and the worst cuts.

Chicago 2016 photos / Creative Commons

A Kent County judge has ruled that taxpayers cannot sue school districts and teachers’ unions who agreed not to privatize any employees. The taxpayers say the schools and unions entered an illegal employment contract when the districts agreed not to privatize any employees in exchange for concessions in pay and health benefits. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s new Legal Foundation represented the taxpayers in the case.

The judge didn’t disagree with the Mackinac Center, but ruled only the parties in the contract – the unions or the school districts – had standing to file suit. And state law dictates the Michigan Employment Relations Commission must hear any unfair labor practice claims.

user familymwr / Flickr

Eastern Michigan University will offer a program to single parents ages 18-24 to help them earn a college degree.

EMU says the "Keys to Degrees" program is open to low-income men and women each with only one child age 18 months or older when the program begins.  

The program will start with availability for ten students who will live in University apartments on campus. While parents are in classes, children will be cared for on campus at EMU's Children Institute.

Because classes are conducted year-round, students could earn a college degree in three years.

In a press release, EMU's assistant vice president of retention and student success, Lynette Findley, said:

"Single parents have been historically marginalized and shut out of higher education, due, in large measure, to the expense of high quality, licensed childcare. This program is an outstanding opportunity to serve the large number of single parents in the greater metro Detroit area in order to improve quality of life for them and for their children."

There are few programs like it around the country.

The Detroit Free Press writes that EMU's program is one of seven colleges offering such benefits:

The Higher Education Alliance for Residential Single Parent Programs lists just seven colleges nationwide that have programs that house single parents and their children on campus through a targeted program. One of the seven is Endicott College, located in Beverly, a Boston suburb.

Endicott College established its program in 1992 and, with a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, will partner with EMU to recreate the initiative in Michigan.

EMU and Endicott College hope to replicate the program at two more Michigan colleges.

Grand Rapids Public Schools

Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor is one of two finalists for an opening at a school district in New York.

Matt Newton / Creative Commons

Although Michigan universities face huge funding cuts from the state, this rate hike has been years in the making. The change will affect a few thousand undergraduates studying at Western’s business school and school of fine arts.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than half a million Michigan kids qualified for free and reduced lunches last year. But only about 1 in 6 of them took advantage of the programs offered during the three month summer break.

By the numbers

  • The nation: 18.5 million children are eligible – 3.3 million (18%) participated
  • In Michigan: 546,000 children are eligible – 92,500 (17%) participated
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Fourth and eighth graders who took a national science test in 2009 posted the worst results among 17 big-city districts.

The scores are from the 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment in science, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test – which is often referred to as the “nation’s report card.”

Results for the fourth and eighth graders in Detroit who took the test were worse than 16 other big cities that participated.

Detroit Public Schools officials are touting new numbers that show the district’s graduation rate is rising.

 

Those statistics show a 62% graduation rate in 2010. That’s up from about 58% rate in 2007, when the district began using a new method to count graduates.

 

Detroit schools’ Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb attributes the rise “in part to aggressive academic improvements and school leadership restructuring.”

 

Something happened this week which will, unless something changes soon, have the effect of finishing the job of effectively destroying the Detroit public schools. And maybe, Michigan’s future.

The state department of education has ordered Detroit to put in place a financial restructuring plan that would close half the district’s schools within two years. That would result in an  average high school class size of sixty-two students.

User mrd00dman / Flickr

The state Department of Education has ordered the Detroit Public Schools to implement a drastic deficit elimination plan.

The plan includes closing half the district’s remaining schools within two years, and increasing some class sizes to 60 students by next school year. It would also create "regional" prinicpals rather than school principals, and cut transportation services for most students.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder wants to cut state funding for K-12 schools by about four percent, or roughly $470 per student.

School districts across the state are now combing through their budgets to see where those cuts could be made.

Tom Goulding is deputy superintendent for West Bloomfield public schools. He says the proposed cuts, which amount to $3.2 million for Goulding's district, don't come as a complete surprise, but they're still "problematic" just the same:

"For example, that type of a cut, if you looked at certain departments or services, could wipe out our K-12 transportation system; not that it would, but the dollars are equivalent to that. Or, based on our total payroll to make up the $3.2 million, it would mean approximately an 8.5% pay cut for each employee working for our school district."

Goulding says neither of those options would go over well in his district.

(sha3teely.com)

The Grand Rapids Public Schools is teaming up with First Steps and Great Start Collaborative to launch what they are calling  "Early Learning Communities". 

  Early Learning Communities are focused on enriching the early learning experiences of young children by strengthening the skills of early childhood caregivers and educators.  The program is intended to improve readiness for school success by:

Students at Mona Shores High School in Muskegon will no longer vote for a prom king or queen.

Instead, they’ll vote for a gender-neutral prom court.

The change is the result of pressure from the ACLU of Michigan and Mona Shores students after a popular transgender student was elected homecoming king.

The school denied the student, Oak Reed, his crown because school records list him as a female.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan college students might have a more difficult time affording summer school classes.  There’s a debate in Congress that might put restrictions on one certain type of federal tuition assistance. 


Pell Grants help many financially needy students afford college classes.   For example, 15 hundred Wayne State University students used their Pell grants to pay for classes last summer.  

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