public schools

Elaine Ezekiel / Michigan Radio

You might have heard how Genesee and Lapeer counties closed down all their schools today and tomorrow due to rumors spreading across Facebook, Twitter, and texts.

But how could a rumor close so many schools?

Below is a Storify narrative of how one text message prompted a social media wildfire in southeast Michigan.

You can click on any of the linked text or images to follow the story further.

Jake Neher / MPRN

State lawmakers are mulling over a number of bills that would overhaul public education in Michigan.

One measure would expand a new state-run district meant to turn-around schools with test scores in the bottom five-percent.

The idea has many public school officials pitted against each other.

Schools like Detroit's Denby High school are at the center of the debate.

Last year, it was one of the lowest-performing schools in the Detroit Public Schools system. Now, it’s one of 15 Detroit schools the state oversees through its Education Achievement Authority.

Michigan PTSA / Youtube.com

For the first time, Michigan could get a piece of President Obama’s Race to the Top prize money for education.

But not everyone’s celebrating.

The Education Achievement Authority was the only Michigan district to qualify as a Race to the Top finalist.

The new authority runs 15 of Michigan’s lowest performing schools in Detroit, but legislation at the state Capitol would expand the district statewide and cement it into law.

More than 100 Parent Teacher Association administrators, teachers and parents signed a letter this week asking Mr. Obama to reconsider his choice.

Michigan’s 250,000 teachers and state school employees face a  deadline of October 26th to choose a new retirement plan. But some groups are asking the State Supreme Court to extend that deadline.

State legislators passed a law changing the pension system in August. Ellen Hoekstra represents the Michigan Federation of Teachers.

"We’re advising people to get as much information as they can and at least fix in their own mind what option they think would be best for themselves and their own family – prior to the 26th – in case that ends up being the deadline," said Hoekstra.

School employees will have four options.

One would require them to pay more than they pay now, to get the same pension.

Another option would allow people to pay the same amount they pay now, but get a smaller pension when they retire.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

It's count day at public school districts across Michigan.

This is the first year that "Fall Count Day" determines 90 percent of per-student funding for the 2012-2013 academic year (in prior years it was 75 percent).

A winter count day in February makes up the remaining 10 percent.

Many schools hold special events to make sure students come to class.

The Michigan Department of Education requires that students receive instruction in all classes on count day.

See more about the requirements here.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

New policy from Michigan’s Department of Human Services would strip welfare benefits from families with truant students.

Starting Monday, families will have to provide proof of student attendance in order to qualify for benefits.

Jennifer Chambers of The Detroit News reports families would become ineligible for benefits if they have a child between the ages 6-15 who is not attending school full time.

user kconnors / morgueFile

The first day of classes was also the day Governor Rick Snyder made some big changes to how teachers and other public school employees will save for retirement.

The new law will require teachers to pay more for retirement benefits. New employees will no longer get retirement health care coverage, but a savings account to help them buy insurance.
    
Teachers unions are already in court to challenge the law, but Governor Snyder said he's not worried about the lawsuit. He said he expects to be sued when his administration makes big changes.

"So I sort of take that as part of the course of action, but we feel good about our litigation position in these matters. These are good things to do. We are doing them in good faith in partnership with the Legislature passing good statute," said Snyder.

The governor and many school administrators say the teacher pension system is over-burdened with debt, and the changes will ensure teachers' benefits will be there when they retire.

(courtesy of KQED)

In 2011, a new teacher tenure law was put in place by the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Snyder. It called for teacher evaluations, but it didn't specify how these evaluations should be done.

Now the panel put in charge of figuring that out will test 4 national teacher evaluation models in 14 Michigan school districts.

More from Lori Higgins of the Detroit Free Press:

The Michigan Senate passed legislation today establishing a system of veterans' courts.
cedarbenddrive / Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Senate has approved a compromise bill that would end state-provided health coverage in retirement for new public school employees and require current workers to pay more for their pensions.

The measure passed Wednesday includes further study of a plan sought by some in the Republican majority to push new hires into a 401 (k)-style plan.

State officials say the proposal reduces by at least $15 billion a roughly $45 billion liability on the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. That comes partly from the state putting $130 million toward retirement costs that school districts are facing.

A version of the bill was previously passed by the House. That chamber is expected to approve the Senate measure.

The legislation would then head to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Seventy-four people have been selected to participate in a program to develop math, science, engineering and technology teachers for several Michigan rural and urban school districts.

The state announced Wednesday the second class of fellows will receive $30,000 to pursue master's degrees at University of Michigan and Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Grand Valley State and Wayne State universities.

The program recruits recent college graduates and those seeking a different career. This year's fellows include a fighter pilot, police chaplain, biologist and kayak instructor.

About two thousand people applied.

They will teach in districts including Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Wyoming and Ypsilanti.

The Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation launched the program in 2009. It's administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Infographic on literacy.
Thea Card / Michigan Radio

It’s one of the most fundamental parts of our daily lives. Something you have probably taken for granted.

It's the ability to read.

In the United States, more than 40 percent of adults with very low literacy live in poverty.

One in five Americans read below the level needed to earn a living wage.

And more than 70 percent of the U.S. prison population cannot read above a fourth grade level.

In collaboration with WBEZ's Front & Center project, Michigan Radio peels back the layers of low-literacy.

In our hour-long show, we explore the impacts that illiteracy has on our communities and what literacy, in an every changing digital world, will really mean in our future.

Literacy is a big issue of concern for our educational system. Illiteracy can prevent people from filling out a job application or earning living wage. It also affects your civic participation.

Take a listen to our show using the "listen" button above, and share your thoughts with us!

Michigan.gov

The state is set to take a preliminary look at the financial situation of Pontiac's public schools, a step that could eventually lead to the appointment of an emergency manager.

Frank Juarez / Flickr

Flint school board members have started weighing their options for closing schools later this year.    They didn’t like the options they were given last night.

The two options presented to the school board last night included closing three elementary schools, one or two middle schools and possibly a high school.

School board members were very much against one proposal that included mixing middle schoolers and high schoolers.  

East Detroit Public Schools

EASTPOINTE, Mich. (AP) - A suburban Detroit school board member warns that his district's participation in a Michigan Schools of Choice program could lead to white students leaving the district.

On Monday night, the East Detroit Board of Education in a 5-2 vote approved opening the district to neighboring Wayne County schools, including Detroit and Harper Woods.

The Macomb Daily of Mount Clemens and MLlive.com report board member Jon Gruenberg said Schools of Choice in other districts has caused a "second wave of white flight."

He predicted that could happen in East Detroit, where the number of minority students continues to increase.

East Detroit school officials long had opposed the Schools of Choice concept, but said the district needed to participate in order to survive financially.

Governor Rick Snyder says he will decide no later than tomorrow whether to place an emergency manager in charge of the Highland Park public schools.

Snyder says he understands that parents are concerned about what could happen to the school district if it is taken over. But he says it’s important the school district is able to stay open to students for the rest of the year.

"Well the main answer on all of this is let’s make sure that kids can finish the school year because Highland Park got themselves in a situation where they couldn’t meet their payroll," Snyder said.

 Snyder’s office has received phone calls from about 100 concerned parents in Highland Park since a financial review panel determined there is a financial emergency in the district.

Detroit Public Schools is the only school district in the state currently run by an emergency manager.

The governor says he wants families to be assured that Highland Park students will be able to finish the school year.

The debate over the effectiveness of K-through-12 cyber schools is ramping up at the state Capitol.

A state House panel is considering a measure that would allow more "cyber schools" to operate in Michigan.          

There are currently two cyber schools authorized in Michigan.

Former state schools Superintendent Tom Watkins supports allowing more cyber schools to operate in the state. But he cautioned lawmakers to take careful consideration of how well individual schools are performing.  

“I would invoke an old Chinese saying; that once you open the window, all the flies can come in,” said Watkins.

Those opposed to more cyber schools in the state say not enough is known about their success rates.

Democratic state Representative Rudy Hobbs, playing on Watkins' flies metaphor, said he wants to make sure new cyber schools operating in the state meet high performance standards.

"Once we pass this, we open up the window. All the flies can come in; every single one of them," said Hobbs. "And then we have to try and figure out which ones are good, which ones are bad, get our fly-swatter out and kind of kill the ones that are bad. Why get the fly-swatter out? Let’s just make sure we let the good ones come in and be done with it."

Supporters of online learning say kids and parents should be afforded more education options and opportunities in the digital age. And they say wait-lists for cyber schools are long.

Republican state Representative Tom McMillin chairs the House Education Committee.

"Education is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. But if we don’t change, the world’s not waiting. And we can’t be stuck in some of the older ways of doing things and our kids are going to be left behind and our state is," said McMillin.

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants traditional public schools to incorporate more cyber-learning. But he has not called for more online-only schools.

Update 2:00 p.m.

An emergency manager may soon take charge of the Highland Park School District. A state review panel today  recommended the governor appoint someone to fix the school district’s "financial emergency."  

The financial review team has been looking at the Highland Park School District’s books since November.   

The panel’s report to the governor finds the school district is $11 million in the red. That works out to about $10 thousand for every student enrolled.  The school district’s deficit has grown by $3 million in just the last year. The school district’s debt has grown, as its student population has fallen. Nearly 3,200 students attended Highland Park schools in 2006.   This year, fewer than a thousand students are enrolled.   

“It is what it is.," laments Edith Hightower, Highland Park’s School Superintendent,  "I don’t disagree with any of the statements that were documented [in the report]."    

Emergency managers are already running the Detroit public schools,  as well as the cities of Flint, Pontiac, Ecorse and Benton Harbor. Financial review teams are also looking at Detroit and Inkster.       

The state Education Department is also conducting a preliminary review of the financial status of the Muskegon Heights School District. 

1:04 p.m.

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (AP) - A review team is recommending an emergency manager for Highland Park Schools after determining the district is in a financial emergency.

Michigan's Treasury Department says in a release Wednesday that a final report by the 10-member independent review team has been given to Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder has 10 days to review the report and make a decision if the district is in a financial emergency.

Highland Park is a small city partially surrounded by Detroit. The school district's budget deficit stands at $11.3 million. The Treasury Department says expenditures outpaced revenues by nearly $4 million in the last fiscal year. The district also has had an operating deficit in five of the past six years.

Enrollment has dropped from 3,179 students to 969 over the past five years.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Momentum for a proposal to allow more university-sponsored charter schools in Michigan appears to have slowed in the state Legislature.

Some lawmakers and schools lobbyists said that’s because the measure does not require charter schools to prove their success.

Democratic state Representative Lisa Brown said the measure should include a requirement that charter schools meet performance standards before opening in Michigan.

“I’m for quality education and every child should have a right to high quality education. There’s nothing in this bill that provides that,” said Brown.

Ari Adler, a spokesman for state House Speaker Jase Bolger, disagreed. Adler said the majority of charter schools in Michigan have long waiting lists for student enrollment. And he said that’s a reflection of high performance.

“So obviously they’re doing something right or parents wouldn’t be lining up to take their kids there," said Adler. "But we are going to be looking at -- this year and well into next year -- quality education in Michigan and how that quality can be improved. And that would be at charter public schools, traditional public schools and all forms of education."

Opponents of eliminating the state’s charter school cap say a third of existing charters have poor performance records.

It’s unclear if the charter school bill will be approved before the end of the year.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Update 11:36 a.m. The Muskegon Heights School Board plans to take the unusual step of asking for a state takeover. And they say they want Marios Demetriou, a Deputy Superintendent at the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, to be the person who servers as their emergency manager. 

The school district has a deficit of around $9 million, and it’s growing. The board blames rising expenses, funding reductions, declining enrollment, and soaring health care costs as reasons for its problems. The Muskegon Heights Superintendent, Dana Bryant, has decided to "give up his job" to "help with financial relief efforts." He'll retire at the end of the year.

The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Superintendent, Dave Sipka, will act as interim Superintendent for Muskegon Heights in the meantime. If one is appointed, an emergency manager could change or end union contracts to reduce the district’s deficit.

Doug Pratt, with the Michigan Education Association, said employees in Muskegon Heights have made sacrifices, and more concessions are not the answer. “The issue really is the fundamental lack of adequate funding from Lansing, especially when you look at the most recent cut of a billion dollars from public education that the legislature enacted earlier this year,” said Pratt.

Even though they’re asking for one, an emergency appointment wouldn’t come right away. A financial review would have to be performed before an EM is appointed. The Michigan Department of Education says they have not received the official request from the Muskegon Heights School Board yet, but they’ve been notified the request is coming. Michigan Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis said the state has had “great concern over the financial stability of Muskegon Heights for quite some time.” She said the Muskegon Heights deficit has grown from $800,000 to around $9 million in the last 5 years. “Their ability to repay that debt or balance their budget becomes harder and harder, just like it would with everyone’s personal budget, if they got further and further in debt,” said Ellis.

The Muskegon Heights School Board has asked for an emergency manager to run the school district.

Thursday, December 8, 11:36 p.m.

In a statement, Muskegon School Board President Avery Burrel said,

"This is the first step in a long process of rebuilding our district's operational future. With the loss of Dr. Bryant's leadership, and the load of debt we are under, my fellow board members and I felt we must set aside our personal pride and ask the State and MAISD for help. Our children are counting on us to do so, and the future of our district depends on our actions today."

9:49 a.m.

Most school districts or cities work to avoid an emergency manager appointment, but the Muskegon Heights school board is practically begging for an emergency manager.

The Muskegon Chronicle reports the school board owes more than $900,000 to the state retirement system.

From the Muskegon Chronicle:

The school board in a surprising move Wednesday voted to ask that Marios Demetriou, the deputy superintendent for the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, be appointed the district's emergency financial manager.

It also eliminated the superintendent's position, accepting the Dec. 31 retirement of Superintendent Dana Bryant, who in a statement said that considering all the other job losses in the district “I need to be man enough to give up my own job to help with the financial reform efforts.”

There are five emergency mangers operating in the state today.

With other school districts and cities in financial distress, more are likely to be appointed.

Update 4:20 p.m.

The Governor's Office sent this press release after Governor Snyder signed the anti-bullying bill:

Michigan will become the 48th state to require schools to develop and enforce policies to protect students from harassment, intimidation and physical violence under anti-bullying legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder today.

The governor called on lawmakers to pass the legislation as part of the education reform plan he proposed in April, saying students need to feel safe in the classroom so they can focus on learning.

“This legislation sends a clear message that bullying is wrong in all its forms and will not be tolerated,” Snyder said. “No child should feel intimidated or afraid to come to school.”

The governor said having a clear policy in place will give teachers and administrators the tools they need to deal with bullies, but he added that parents can help by ensuring their own children do not engage in or encourage others to bully.

House Bill 4163, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Potvin, is known as “Matt’s Safe School Law” in honor of Matt Epling, a Michigan teen who ended his life in 2002 after enduring severe bullying.  The legislation gives schools six months to develop clear anti-bullying policies so they will be in place by the start of the 2012-2013 school year.  The bill is now Public Act 241 of 2011.

A detailed description of the bill’s requirements may be found online at www.legislature.mi.gov.

3:50 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed the law that requires schools to adopt anti-bullying policies. Family members of children who committed suicide looked on as the governor signed the measure. Until today, Michigan was one of three states that did not have an anti-bullying law.

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