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 Articles of Interest - Michigan Education

ISD Reform Bills in Works

Charters May Sue Watkins

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ISD Reform Bills In Works

MIRS, April 15, 2003

 

A four-bill package of reforms is expected to be introduced soon in the House that would allow school districts and their voters to dissolve their Intermediate School Districts (ISDs).

 

Rep. Ruth JOHNSON (R-Holly) is the leading sponsor of the package. MIRS wrote about the potential legislation earlier this year (the Jan. 21 edition). At that time, the general feedback from lawmakers, other than those from Oakland County, was that the issue was local in nature.

 

There's little doubt that the main catalyst for the package was a scandal that came to light last fall in Oakland County. An investigation revealed that Oakland County ISD trustees approved payments recommended by Superintendent James REDMOND, including his contract, without being provided with adequate information. Investigations also revealed that the ISD had used funds approved by voters for special education for a new $30 million building instead.

 

Currently, Oakland County residents are waiting to see if Attorney General Michael COX comes up with anything on the alleged scandal.

 

Ruth Johnson has maintained that only half of the proposed package stemmed from the recent Oakland County Schools situation. In addition, she said there are now examples of questionable situations taking place at ISDs outside of Oakland County.

 

“We've got the Kent County ISD being investigated by the FBI,” Johnson said. “And, now news reporters are working on a story that the Genesee County ISD spent about $300,000 on travel.”

 

Shortly after that Jan. 21 article was published, MIRS asked House Speaker Rick JOHNSON (R-LeRoy) about the measures, and he seemed less that sold on the legislation. In fact, part of the Speaker's response to the question consisted of him touting how important some ISDs actually are.

 

Ruth Johnson said today that the drafting of legislation has been slowed, specifically because she wants it designed so it won't have unintended consequences in other parts of the state.

 

“I talked to the Speaker about it and he wanted some changes,” the Holly Republican said. “We've been making changes so that the bills will work better for multiple counties. For instance, some ISDs in northern Michigan are combined. Making these changes was part of what's been taking so long.”

 

Based on the initial version of the package and some changes being discussed, it appears that the basic outline for the legislation will be as follows:

 

- ISDs would be required to use the funds they receive from local tax levies for whatever purpose the voters specifically approved. If an ISD does not use the tax-levied funds for the stated purpose, a new election would be held in which voters could reverse the results the millage election.

 

- ISD board members would be elected rather than appointed, as is currently the case.

 

- School contracts would be made void if the entities the schools contracted with are found to be guilty of malfeasance.

 

- School districts could ask the voters to dissolve their ISDs. This could occur when more than half of the boards of school districts served by an ISD vote to place an initiative to dissolve the ISD on the ballot. If the voters were to approve the dissolution proposal, the ISD's funding would be turned over to the individual school districts, which could contract out for the services currently provided by the ISD.

 

Johnson said that her legislation isn't designed to get rid of the ISDs that are doing good work across the state.

 

“We don't want to dissolve ISDs that are working,” Ruth Johnson said. “But we feel that the system really needs more checks and balances. I've been told by some school district principals that if we got rid of their ISDs, they'd never know the difference. If that's so, than we should consider that, if the money passed directly through to the school districts, with no ISD in between, that would be $1,100 more per student.”

 

Charters May Sue Watkins

MIRS, April 15, 2003

 

State Superintendent Tom Watkins may find himself hauled into court for refusing to assign state codes to seven potential charter schools.

 

Dan QUISENBERRY from the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) said lawyers, led by Richard McLELLAN, are reviewing all their legal options in the wake of the Watkins' announcement last week.

 

"There are a variety of options legally, some as simple as seeking a writ of mandamus to order him to do his duty," Quisenberry said. He believes Watkins "certainly has not done his duty."

 

It is also possible misfeasance and malfeasance charges could be folded into a possible legal challenge.

Quisenberry claimed Watkins has a legal responsibility to issue the codes and he can not pick and choose which laws he wants to enforce.

 

Attorneys for the seven schools are also working on the next move. Those schools are located in Mt. Clemens, Sumpter Township, Brimley, Flint, Waterford, Jackson, and another in Macomb County. Some 1,700-plus students have signed up for these schools, but without the state's green light the charters can not open.

 

Pro-charter backers in the Legislature are considering a bill that would clarify state law making it clear that the superintendent has no other choice but to assign the code so that the schools can collect state support.

There is no word on when a decision will be reached on whether to sue Watkins. Meanwhile, Bay Mills Community College, which authorized the seven charter schools in question, is considering what options may be at its disposal. (See related story).

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