K-12

Education
5:51 pm
Fri January 13, 2012

State superintendent recommends formal review of Muskegon Heights Public Schools' finances

Muskegon Heights High School
Muskegon Heights School Board

Michigan’s Department of Education is recommending the governor conduct a formal review of Muskegon Heights Public Schools’ finances. That’s the next step in a process that could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager – which the school board has asked the state to do.

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Education
4:50 am
Mon January 9, 2012

Last workshop on new Education Achievement Authority this week

Benton Harbor High School is one of nearly 100 schools on the list of the Michigan's "lowest achieveing schools" for 2011.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

This week parents and educators have one last chance to weigh in on the state’s plans for the new Michigan Education Achievement Authority.

The authority is a new school system that’ll try to help turn around the state’s lowest performing schools. Roughly 100 public schools across the state make that list. The system starts in Detroit Public Schools next fall.

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Education
10:31 pm
Tue January 3, 2012

Grand Rapids Public Schools has a new, temporary, superintendent

Grand Rapids School Board President Senita Lenear (right) stands with Interim Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal (left) to answer questions from the media after Monday night's board meeting.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Former superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor had planned to resign by the end of the school year. But Tuesday night the school board of Michigan’s third largest public school district voted unanimously to grant Taylor an immediate leave of absence.

In June 2011, Taylor agreed to resign from Grand Rapids schools by June 2012. That agreement came after he was a finalist for other jobs beginning last spring. It’s unclear why Taylor asked to leave now. The request came in an official letter dated December 27th. He’ll use all of his vacation and sick days left. The district would have had to pay him for those anyway.

 GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt says Taylor is deferring all comments to the school board president.

“I don’t know if relief is the is the word,” Grand Rapids school board president Senita Lenear responded to reporters after the meeting, “but we definitely are looking at this as an opportunity.”

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Education
4:36 pm
Wed December 28, 2011

Michigan’s Department of Education to pay for certain standardized tests

Alberto G. Creative Commons

The state is launching a pilot program that’ll cover the costs of some standardized tests over the next two years. The Michigan Department of Education hopes the data from the tests will help public schools meet tougher state mandates.

About two-thirds of Michigan’s 8th and 10th graders already take the pre-ACT exams. But individual districts have to pay for them. The exams line up with state standards for graduating high school. 

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Education
2:14 pm
Wed December 21, 2011

Benton Harbor schools avoid further financial reviews, for now

Benton Harbor Area Schools will be able to follow thier own map to success by retaining local control of the district. The district will have to maintain progress in order to avoid another state review.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Michigan schools superintendent Mike Flanagan says a review of the Benton Harbor schools finds evidence of "probable financial stress." But Flanagan is not recommending a deeper, 60-day review. He says that’s because the district has taken “several steps in recent days to correct the deficit including:”

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Education
6:35 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

Benton Harbor teachers agree to lower wages in face of potential state takeover

Benton Harbors' school board voted to close a junior high school. 7th and 8th graders will head to Benton Harbor High School. Seawood said he's taken precautions to seperate the age groups within the school.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Teachers in Benton Harbor have agreed to an across-the-board cut of pay and benefits. Teachers ratified the contract with a vote of 85 yes and 65 no. Tuesday afternoon the school board voted 5 to 2 to approve a new contract that will reduce teachers’ pay by 10-percent beginning in February (the contract runs through August 2012). Teachers will pay 20-percent of their health care benefits.  In the past three weeks alone the school board has closed two schools and laid off 20 employees. They’ve also put buildings up for sale.

“That will help us with our cash flow and will allow us to continue our operation without a stoppage,” Superintendent Leonard Seawood said. “That’s a lot for this community to be proud of,” Seawood said, in terms of addressing the financial problems. Seawood has been with the district since August 2010. 

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Education
2:50 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

State begins review of Muskegon Heights schools' finances

Muskegon Heights High School
Muskegon Heights School Board

Tomorrow the state will begin a preliminary review of the Muskegon Heights School District’s finances. This is the first step in a process that would determine if the school district needs a state-appointed emergency manager.

Many school districts and municipalities make an effort to avoid state takeovers. But in Muskegon Heights, the school board is asking for one.

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Politics
5:45 am
Mon December 19, 2011

Benton Harbor schools take “major steps” to avoid possible takeover

In a conference room near Dr. Leonard Seawood's office is a roadmap illustrating how Benton Harbor Area School are planning to get back on track.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor Area Schools will get results from the state’s preliminary review of the district’s finances this week. The school district blames cash flow problems on a lower-than-expected-student count this fall.

The 30-day preliminary review is the first step in a process to determine if a school district or municipality needs a state-appointed emergency manager. It does not mean one will be appointed for certain.

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Education
1:55 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

Southwest Michigan school district lays off all teachers; most support staff

Galien closed its elementary building in 2004. The school district hopes to sell it for $290,000 to help pay off debt.
Galien Township Schools

This week a small school district in southwest Michigan laid off all but four employees because of major budget problems. 122 students at Galien Township Schools will have to enroll at new schools next semester. Included in the layoffs were 10 teachers, 10 support staff, 4 bus drivers, and 2 kitchen workers. The only ones who remain are the superintendent, the business manager, a secretary and a custodian.

The Galien district consists mostly of farmland 3 miles away from the Michigan-Indiana border in Berrien County. The number of students there has gone down for several years. The school board closed the high school in 2004. Those students transferred to other districts. In January, kindergarteners through eighth graders will do the same.

“I’m sad for this community,” Superintendet Tim Allard said, “I’m sad for these employees who have been here so much longer than I have." Allard just came on as the district’s superintendent in September. 

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Education
1:25 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Grand Rapids schools hopes to improve online learning model

The program at GRPS is a "blend" of traditional and online instruction. Right now it is only for freshman and sophomore high school students.
Sarah M. Stewart Creative Commons

A report out this week shows more than half of high school freshmen and sophomores failed the first semester of the new blended-online courses at Grand Rapids Public Schools. GRPS is Michigan's third largest K-12 district.

The program launched in the fall of 2010. At the time it was (and may very well continue to be) incredibly controversial. Like any new program, Grand Rapids schools spokesman John Helmholdt says there was an adjustment period the first semester.

“There was both a district-wide layoff but also a huge early retirement incentive where we had more than 400 teachers, principals, and support staff retire; and so that first semester was a little rocky,” Helmholdt said. The retirement incentive was offered by the State of Michigan to try to save districts and the state money.

Test scores improved in the spring 2011 semester, but the failure rate was still 44-percent.

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Education
6:57 pm
Thu November 17, 2011

State takes a step in potential takeover of Benton Harbor Schools

The State of Michigan will conduct a preliminary review of the "critical and alarming financial situation" at Benton Harbor Area Schools. This is the first step in a process that would determine if the school district needs a state-appointed emergency manager. It doesn’t mean one would be appointed for certain.

Leonard Seawood has been superintendent of Benton Harbor Area Schools for a little more than a year. “When you are in a deficit like I inherited…there are no easy answers in terms to digging yourself out of this hole as a district,” Seawood said.

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Culture of class
7:30 am
Thu November 17, 2011

Investing in early childhood education

2-year-old Ashley Belbot sits on her mom's lap during a weekly Early Head Start home visit. Early Head Start at Michigan Family Resources (the Head Start agency in Kent County, MI) is a home-based program; not all are.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

When Governor Rick Snyder talks about education in the state, he doesn’t talk in terms of K-12 but rather P-20 education. He describes it as pre-natal through post-graduate.

Early education increasingly considered key to future success

Susan Neuman is a Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Michigan. She served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education from 2001-2003. (You can read more about her work in early childhood development here.)

Neuman says she can measure an achievement gap between children as early as 9 months. She says birth through age three turns out to be pretty crucial for a child’s future. “This is when brain development is increasing at an enormous rate,” Nueman said. “This is when language development is spurting this is when cognitive development and this is when our belief in ourselves is developing.”

Nueman says the best early childhood education programs are those that strengthen a parent’s ability to become their child’s best teacher in those first years of life.

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Education
8:19 pm
Wed October 12, 2011

Vice President Biden says students would gain from “Jobs Act"

Vice President Joe Biden visited the more than 100-year-old Central High School in Grand Rapids Wednesday.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Vice President Joe Biden says he’ll work to get President Obama’s American Jobs Act through Congress piece by piece if lawmakers won’t take up the entire stimulus bill.

Biden says the bill would invest $25 billion to fix 35,000 schools across the country, including buildings like the one visited in Grand Rapids Wednesday.

Junior and seniors at Grand Rapids’ Central High School showed Biden around their science classroom, listened, and asked questions. He also saw a classroom they can’t use because of health concerns over chipping and peeling paint.

“They’re in a laboratory where they can’t turn on a burner because there’s no ventilation system,” Biden said. “They have microscopes that use mirrors – I mean it’s just totally out of date.” The science classroom is part of Grand Rapids Public Schools district’s School of Health Science and Technology; a “hub” school students can opt into. “Come on man,” Biden told reporters after the visits, “these are talented kids - they chose to come here to learn more.”

Biden says some GOP leaders would rather “do nothing” than pass parts of the bill he says they agree with.

Education
6:00 am
Wed October 5, 2011

Today is “count day” for students at all public schools in Michigan

Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

The tally of students who show up at each school district is a major factor in how much money a district gets from the state.

There are two count days each year; one in the spring and one in the fall. This year state lawmakers changed the formula so that the fall count day is even more important. The number of students a district has is determined by a blend of the two count days. The fall day makes up 90-percent of that blend, the spring only 10-percent.

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Education
5:36 pm
Mon September 19, 2011

Democrats want constitutional amendment to protect school money

Democrats in the state House say voters should be allowed to decide how the state spends its education dollars.

They’re calling for a constitutional amendment that would specify that School Aid Fund money be spent only on K-12 schools, and not on universities and community colleges.

Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum says Republicans have proposed diverting $900 million from K-12 schools for the fiscal year that starts in October.

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Commentary
11:19 am
Tue August 30, 2011

Proposal A Revisited

These are tough times for Michigan’s Public Schools, which by and large, have done a superb job educating our citizens since we became a state nearly two hundred years ago.

Statewide, the schools are suffering from a series of crippling funding cuts enacted at the same time we are demanding they do more with less. Teachers feel that their hard-won health care, pension, salaries and benefits are under siege.

And some districts are suffering further because an explosion of charter schools are taking students and money away from them. This is most acute in Detroit. There, a revolving door of expensive financial managers and high-paid consultants have proven unable to fix the schools or halt the stampede away from them.

Naturally, this has led to a crisis atmosphere. I spent yesterday afternoon with the leadership of the various school districts in one of Michigan’s major counties. They believe there is an actual conspiracy against them. They think there are those who want to essentially destroy public education and turn it into a system of charter schools and vouchers, for one big reason: To get private hands on some of the thirteen billion a year Michigan spends on public education.

Whether that’s true or not, that there is a major crisis - and coincidentally, a major new report finally gets to the bottom of just why this is. There are few institutions more respected than the non-partisan, non-profit Citizens Research Council of Michigan, whose motto is this: The right to criticize government is also an obligation to know what you are talking about.

Released yesterday, the CRC’s study is called “Distribution of State Aid to Michigan Schools.” That may not sound like a sexy page-turner, but for those of us interested in saving our state, it is.

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Education
6:56 am
Tue August 30, 2011

Enrollment a factor in public school finances

Woodley Wonder Works Flickr

 A new report, released by the Citizen's Research Council, says declining enrollment is one reason many Michigan public schools are facing financial struggles. From the Associated Press:

About 61 percent of Michigan's 551 traditional public school districts faced some degree of declining enrollment between the state's 1995 and 2009 fiscal years...

It's an important factor because much of the state aid that goes to school districts is granted on a per-student basis. The report says about half of Michigan's school districts saw a decline in their total state aid foundation revenue between the 1995 and 2009 fiscal years once it's adjusted for inflation.

The report says the per-student gap between the state's highest and lowest funded districts has shrunk but still exists.

The 87 page report, titled Distribution of State Aid to Michigan Schools, can be found here.

Education
10:15 pm
Mon August 8, 2011

Grand Rapids schools attract thousands to “park parties”

Grand Rapids Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor asks students to pick spelling or math questions to get a book-bag at the park party Monday night in Clemente Park.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

More than a thousand children and their parents are expected to mark the start of the school year at a park in Grand Rapids Tuesday afternoon. Hundreds of kids swarmed Clemente Park Monday evening; jumping in a bounce house, getting their faces painted, eating hot dogs, and signing up for afterschool programs.

Grand Rapids Public Schools is hosting the parties to get parents information and kids excited about the new school year. For four year-round schools in Grand Rapids, classes start this Thursday.

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Education Funding
7:29 am
Mon August 1, 2011

State budget director questions school aid earmarks

Woodley Wonderworks Flickr

The amount of money Michigan has to spend in its general fund for everything from prisons to health care dropped by nearly 25 percent over the past four fiscal years amid the recession and shrinking tax revenues. Yet the state's school aid fund remained relatively healthy, protected by earmarks for public schools.

State budget director John Nixon thinks those earmarks merit another look.

"It's not that I'm saying we need to cut the school aid fund ... (but) a lot of this stuff was put in place 15, 20 years ago when Michigan looked totally different," he said during a recent interview with The Associated Press. "We just need to strip things down and say, `This is the money we're bringing in, this is where it's going. Is it lining up appropriately?"'

Nearly three-quarters of the sales tax collected annually goes to the $13.3 billion school aid fund, as well as nearly a fourth of the income tax revenue, 42 percent of cigarette tax revenue and a third of the money raised by the use tax and the Michigan Business Tax. The school aid fund also receives all of the money raised through a statewide 6-mill education property tax, the real estate transfer tax, the state casino wagering tax and the net proceeds from lottery sales.

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Education
2:16 pm
Mon June 27, 2011

Democrats calling on Snyder to send more money to K-12 schools

State Representative Roy Schmidt (D-Grand Rapids) joins parents, teachers, and school board members Monday. Other democrats held similar news conferences across Michigan today.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Kids still enjoy the playground at Stocking Elementary School. The school in Grand Rapids was closed last year to save money. State Representative Roy Schmidt used the shuttered school as a backdrop while telling people Michigan’s fund for K-through-12 schools had a surplus this year.

“We had the money, it just got switched somewhere else.”

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