teachers

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Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that will make it easier for school districts to fire teachers in classrooms where students are struggling. It also eliminates discipline and layoff rules as a subject of collective bargaining with teachers unions. 

The governor says seniority is an outdated system for deciding which teachers are laid off first, and where they should work.

"We need a performance-based system that recognizes the very best that teachers can deliver and gives them good recognition and reward for those opportunities and that's what this is all about," said Snyder. "It's about moving forward and stop looking at a broken world of the past."

School employee unions say the new law will remove critical job protections and lead to districts getting rid of veteran teachers for financial rather than academic reasons.

Louise Somalski, with the American Federation of Teachers, says the new law takes away teachers’ rights to bargain for job protections as school districts face growing financial pressures.

"I’m afraid that when it comes right down to it, there so tight on money at the local school district level because funding has been cut, that the most-experienced teachers are going to be let go – and we want the most-experienced teachers with the kids and it's going to hurt the students in the long run."

A commission will make specific recommendations to the Legislature next year on how to measure teacher performance.

The new rules will take effect at the beginning of the school year that begins in the fall of 2012.

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Governor Snyder is set to sign new teacher tenure rules into law today. Changing the state’s tenure laws has been a priority of Governor Snyder and the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. The Associated Press reports:

Gov. Rick Snyder is preparing to sign into law changes to the state's teacher tenure system that supporters say will make it easier to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.

Supporters say the legislation… makes teacher performance rather than seniority the key factor in awarding tenure and deciding layoffs within a district.

Democrats say the proposals are part of a continued legislative attack on teachers and union rights and won't improve the state's schools.

Teachers already are reeling from state budget cuts to education that could force layoffs in many districts headed into the next academic year.

GOP lawmakers also are working on legislation that would require many teachers and other public employees to pay a larger share of their own health insurance costs.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Superintendent resigned yesterday, but today he hinted that he may not want to leave.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor has been lobbying state lawmakers to pass teacher tenure reform. Yesterday, lawmakers did that. 

Taylor says the reform means everyone’s focus has to be on student achievement.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate may soon consider bills to make it easier to fire veteran teachers.   The state House has already passed the bills.  

A tenure reform plan in the state Senate has the stamp of approval from Michigan’s largest teachers’ union.

The Senate proposal is very different from a tenure reform plan approved by the state House earlier this month.

Doug Pratt is with the Michigan Education Association. He says the legislation would eliminate a state tenure commission, and instead assign arbitrators to school districts that want to dismiss tenured teachers.

The Ann Arbor school board passed its budget last night which eliminated teaching positions.

Kyle Feldscher from Annarbor.com reports:

Trustees passed the $183 million budget by a 5-2 vote, filling a deficit that eventually grew to about $16 million. The budget originally included the elimination of high school transportation and 70 full-time teacher positions. The final budget passed Wednesday included high school transportation and eliminated 62.3 full-time teacher positions.

Feldscher reports that teacher layoffs are not expected:

The budget includes no layoffs of full-time teachers, with all of the position reductions coming through attrition and negotiations with the Ann Arbor Education Association.

School districts would have an easier time firing teachers under changes to tenure laws approved by the state House.

The tenure proposal would rate the effectiveness of teachers based on student test scores.

The bills have begun their march through the Legislature after many years of debating changes to tenure rules.

Democratic state Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton says tenure laws came about to protect teachers from administrators that tried to ban certain books from being taught in the classroom.

She says of course tenure rules should be updated and changed, but she says these changes go too far:

"Rather than go in with the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel, identify a problem and fix it, what these bills do, really, I think, absolutely flay the tenure act with all the zeal of a butcher’s knife," said Lipton.

Republicans say the proposed changes would ensure bad teachers with failing student test scores are removed from classrooms.

The tenure bills were approved along mostly party lines, with one Democrat saying he would discourage his granddaughter from ever teaching in Michigan. The bills now head to the Republican-led state Senate.

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Governor Rick Snyder came to the Mackinac Policy Conference after landing two big fish from the Michigan Legislature:  a new tax overhaul plan which reduces taxes on businesses and a budget that makes big cuts, including cuts to K-12 education spending.

After these victories, he might have thought he was going to leave the protesters behind in Lansing, but they've followed him to Mackinac Island.

Paul Egan of the Detroit News reports a group of teachers and other public sector workers are protesting Snyder's education cuts and tax policies. Egan quoted Jim Martin, a health and physical education teacher from Sault Ste. Marie, speaking about Governor Snyder:

"He says he's not anti-union or anti-teacher, but his actions say otherwise," Martin said at a news conference about a block away from the Grand Hotel where the policy conference organized by the Detroit Regional Chamber is being held.

The news conference was organized by A Better Michigan Future, a coalition of about 50 union and public interest groups...

"It can't be possible that everyone really believes that corporations need the money more than children," said Tammy Hazley, a special education teacher from Sault Ste. Marie Area Public Schools.

Egan reports the group is calling for a new state income tax, one where higher-income earners would pay more than lower-income earners. The group's director "also called for a reduction in the cost of work contracted out by state government."

user BES Photos / Flickr

This week, What’s Working focuses on education by taking a look at one Michigan school that went from academic mediocrity to being a model for educational reforms in the state. North Godwin Elementary is located just south of Grand Rapids in a working class community with a high immigrant population. Many families in the area are refugees from countries such as Bosnia, Cuba, Vietnam, and Liberia. A high number of students spend a few years learning English as a second language. 

When Arelis Diaz arrived as a teacher at North Godwin Elementary in 1995, the students were struggling to reach proficiency in basic skills. She spent five years as a teacher, and then served as principal of the school from 2000 to 2005. In that time, North Godwin’s students began excelling on standardized tests, bringing student proficiency rates to upwards of 80 percent across all subjects. That academic success at North Godwin continues today. The school has been the recipient of praise and awards for its turnaround, including the “Dispelling the Myth” award in 2010, given by The Educational Trust. 

michigan/gov

In a speech at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan's office in Detroit this morning, Governor Snyder laid out his plans for reforming Michigan's education system.

It's a system that Snyder said needs to be transformed from one "still rooted in the days of a mostly farm-based society to one that prepares students for the technological age of today and jobs of tomorrow."

Snyder says the need for reform is clear. In a message to the state legislature that outlined his broad plans, he noted the following statistics:

  • A total of 238 Michigan high schools have zero college-ready students based on the spring 2010 ACT test
  • Only 16% of all students statewide are college-ready based on the ACT taken in spring 2010 as a part of the MME
  • Fewer than 50% of students are proficient in writing based on fall 2010 MEAP data in grades 4 and 7 and spring 2010 Michigan Merit Examination (MME) data for grade 11
  • Michigan ranks 21st in the country in total current expenditures per-pupil, yet it ranks 39th in the nation when it comes to fourth grade math proficiency and 34th in reading proficiency

Here's a summary of Snyder's education plan:

A high school teacher with Plymouth-Canton Community Schools accused of threatening co-workers has been arraigned on weapons charges. Fifty-two-year-old Raymond Schepansky was charged Saturday with carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a weapon on school property and felony firearm.

The Detroit News reports that a magistrate dismissed a charge of carrying a weapon with unlawful intent after finding that Schepansky had not specifically threatened anyone. The magistrate entered an innocent plea for Schepansky and ordered him held on $100,000 cash bond.

Police say Schepansky seemed angry and frustrated when he arrived Wednesday at Plymouth High School with a handgun and ammunition in his car. He was ordered to stay away from the school.

Schepansky, who's been suspended, was arrested Thursday when he returned, prompting a one-day shutdown of the school.

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New emergency financial manager powers to be used in Detroit?

The controversial new law that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more power could first be used in the Detroit Public School system.

Detroit Public School Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said he intends to use the law.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted," Bobb said, referring to a new law that gives emergency managers the authority to modify -- or terminate -- collective bargaining agreements. It was the first time Bobb had publicly indicated he intends to use the expanded authority.

This statement came after all teachers in the Detroit Public School system were sent a layoff notices yesterday. As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported, sending layoff notices to all the teachers is unprecedented, but final decisions on whose job will actually be cut have yet to be made.

Teachers, in the meantime, say they're prepared to fight Bobb's proposals - from the Freep:

"If he tries to modify the contract and back-door us on the issue of seniority, we are aptly prepared," said DFT President Keith Johnson, who also will receive a layoff notice. "We have already prepared our legal counter."

House fails to reject partner benefits

There weren't enough votes in the State House to reverse the Civil Service Commission's decision to allow health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees.

The benefits are scheduled to take effect this October.

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta reported that Republicans say the decision "undermines 'traditional families' and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan."

Attorney General Schuette is looking into that last claim, and House Speaker Jase Bolger says he'll continue to look for other ways to block the benefits.

Flags at half staff today for Navy medic from Niles

Benjamin D. Rast was killed in Afghanistan. Flags around the state will be at half staff today.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of a 23-year-old Navy medic from southwest Michigan who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The order is in effect for today.

The military says 23-year-old Benjamin D. Rast of Niles died April 6. He was assigned as a hospitalman to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

There will be a visitation today at Brandywine High School in Niles and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the school.

Public school teachers protesting in Lansing on February 26th, 2011.
mea.org

Governor Rick Snyder says he hopes teachers won’t authorize their union to call a statewide strike in response to his budget plans.

The Michigan Education Association is in the process of collecting answers to a member inquiry.

The MEA is querying its 155,000 members and 1,100 local bargaining units.

Union members are mad over Michigan’s new emergency manager law that could threaten collective bargaining agreements in financially troubled school districts. And many of them oppose Governor Snyder’s proposed big cuts to K-through-12 education and requiring teachers to pay more for their pensions and health coverage.

The governor says he’s confident the controversies will not spill over to classrooms.

"We have fabulous teachers in our state and I have confidence that the teachers in our state understand, and really appreciate – because they’re doing it for a living – that the most important thing in front of them is the students they’re teaching, and I don’t think they’ll look at using their students as a pawn in a broader game," said Snyder.

It is illegal for teachers and other public employees to strike in Michigan, but the MEA says cuts in school funding and rollbacks in collecting bargaining rights may demand drastic actions.

They've asked its bargaining units to authorize job actions that could include picketing or walkouts.

They expect to have all responses in hand by mid-April.

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.

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