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Bridges4Kids LogoSenate Panel Moves First ISD Bills
Gongwer News Service, June 24, 2004
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Intermediate school district board members could be recalled, local school boards would have to review the proposed budgets for their ISDs and administrators would have to bid out construction projects under legislation reported Thursday from the Senate Education Committee.

But the future of the bills is still uncertain. The committee removed provisions that would have limited ISD board members to 12 years in office, a provision that Rep. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly) championed and may yet fight to retain.

The committee made the most changes to HB 4338, which included the term limits provision. The bill as reported does reduce the terms to four years from the current six.

The main focus of the bill is recall provisions, allowing both the local school boards, which in most ISDs are the direct selectors of the ISD board members, and the general public to seek removal of a board member.

The bill also provides for the governor to remove a board member, though as reported the bill would require some showing of wrongdoing on the part of that board member to warrant gubernatorial action.

The term limits issue was a point of contention last week, as Ms. Johnson argued they were successful at providing accountability for board members and infusing new ideas and energy into the boards. Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland) argued term limits had not worked to limit influence and power of certain groups at the state level and would not likely work in the local office, an opinion joined by the other two Republicans on the Senate committee.

Ms. Johnson said after the meeting that she would have to discuss with Rep. Brian Palmer (R-Romeo), chair of the House Education Committee, whether to accept the Senate changes or to put the bill into conference committee for one more shot at the term limits provision.

The bill also, as it left the House, placed limits on the ability of the Detroit Public Schools CEO to approve contracts. That provision also was removed by the Senate panel.

And the bill's implementation date was moved back a year to July 1, 2005.

Other parts of the package reported Thursday:

HB 4947 requiring that local school districts conduct public meetings to select new ISD board members. But the committee amended the bill to allow the local boards to send any representative to that meeting, not necessarily a member of the local board.

HB 5376 requiring that ISDs follow the same public bid rules as public school academies when constructing or repairing buildings, though the bill increases the minimum cost for the bid requirement to $17,932 from the current $12,500 and tied the amount to the consumer price index. The bill as reported also would require disclosure of any familial relationships between contractors and board members, though it would not prohibit such relationships.

HB 5458 providing for local district review of ISD budgets. As reported, the bill does not require local district approval of the budgets, but it does require the districts to adopt, by June 1 of each year, resolutions either supporting the budget or recommending adjustments.

The committee dropped, at least for now, bills that would have required each ISD to create a special education parent advisory committee (HB 5530) and that would have required local school boards to publicly announce their preferred candidate for an open ISD board seat (SB 643). The advisory committee bill had generated concerns about the privacy of students whose cases were discussed in what would be required to be open meetings or, if that privacy was properly respected, the efficacy of those committees.

House May Allow 4 Counties to Dissolve ISDs
Gongwer News Service, June 24, 2004

Voters in four counties would hold votes in June 2005 on whether to eliminate their intermediate school district and turn over its operations to local school districts under a bill that the House will consider next week.

The House on Thursday altered SB 599 to include the public vote on intermediate school districts, some of which have come under investigation for misspent public funds. Under the bill, Genesee, Kent, Macomb and Oakland counties would hold votes on whether to dissolve their ISDs and divert the funds to the local school districts.

But the House opted not to hold a final passage vote, postponing one until next week.

Several bills changing ISD governance cleared a Senate committee Thursday (see separate story). Those bills have the support of the education community, but it is opposing other bills, pending on the House floor and short of sufficient votes, that would allow the replacement of ISD boards with so-called accountability boards.

The opposition has frustrated House Speaker Rick Johnson (R-LeRoy) and led to Thursday's action, said his spokesperson, Keith Ledbetter.

"These ISDs are dragging their feet on reforms that are absolutely necessary. They're pretending like there aren't considerable problems in these ISDs across the state," he said. "He wanted to send a message to the ISDs that they need to stop resisting reforms."

The House put the amended bill up for a final passage vote, and it would likely have passed, but leaders decided instead to clear the voting board and wait until next week. "There were a number of Republican caucus members who said this is a pretty significant change and we want to briefed on it," Mr. Ledbetter said.

An official with one of the public school organizations called the amendment "short-sighted" because ISDs save money by consolidating services like special education.

"The idea that you're going to turn over the special ed millage to local districts on the surface sounds good, but the reason they're at the ISD right now is because there's economies of scale," said Don Wotruba of the Michigan Association of School boards. "If they want to look at ways to help school districts control costs and keep costs down, this is the exact opposite of what they should be doing."

Mr. Wotruba said the groups support the ISD bills that have passed the House and are moving through the Senate and remain willing to work on the other bills that they now oppose.

"Opposing them in a committee doesn't mean you're not willing to talk about them," he said.

Democrats sharply criticized the move by the Republican-led House. "Tens of thousands of Michigan families with special needs children would suffer if Republican succeed in their plans to eliminate ISDs," said Rep. Andy Meisner (D-Ferndale) in a written statement.

Michigan Adoption Bills Win House Committee Approval
Gongwer News Service, June 24, 2004

A package of bills revamping the Michigan's adoption procedures was Thursday generally given good marks for intent in striving to avoid a recurrence of a bungled process last year that saw two sisters caught between conflicting adoption orders by two different courts. But as the bills won unanimous approval by a House committee, they were faulted by some for potentially delaying adoptions of children who are wards of the state.

The genesis of the package before the House Family and Children's Services Committee was the traumatic adoption last year of two girls who were approved for adoption by their foster parents by a Clinton County judge only later to be awarded by an Oakland County judge to a couple who were their distant relatives. The parental rights of the girls' mother, Kathleen Holey, had been terminated by a court in Ingham County.

Rep. Lauren Hager (R-Port Huron), chair of the committee and who had asked the state Children's Ombudsman to investigate the Holey adoption, said the bills will help make sure all key players in an adoption proceeding will have a chance to have their interests considered.

"I believe we are evening the playing field so all parties will get notice of a hearing," he said of provisions in HB 6008. That issue was central in the Holey adoption when the foster parents were not notified of the petition in the Oakland court and the court later ruled they lacked standing to join that proceeding.

A key item of dispute in the package is a requirement in HB 6010 that adoption petitions be filed in the counties where parental rights have been terminated rather than in counties where the adoptive parents reside. Proponents say the change will enhance the focus on the children's interests and reduce chances for confusion.

The Department of Human Services, the State Bar of Michigan's Family Law Section and the Wayne County Circuit Court's Family Division all predicted the requirement could overwhelm court and family services staff - particularly in Wayne County which is home to most of the children who become wards of the state - thus undercutting the goal of better protecting the interests of the affected children.

Bill Johnson, acting program manager of FIA's Adoption Services Division, said procedures could be improved if courts were only given the option of sending adoption petitions to counties where termination orders were entered. He and others troubled by the mandatory change to the county of parental rights termination said nearly all of those cases are completed without objection.

Mr. Johnson, former MCI superintendent whose decision to consent to adoption of the Holey girls with the foster parents was not defended in court by the FIA, said the package does, however, generally improve the relationship between the state agency and counties.

Cynthia Sherburn, legal counsel for the family division of the Wayne Circuit Court, said the petition filing requirement would overburden the system by adding about 50 percent of the caseload that would have to be heard by judges in that county. A better solution to clearing up confusion, she said, would be a central adoption registry.

But Renee Reid, attorney for the foster parents Chadd and Tamera Smith, said that proposal would add a layer of bureaucracy and increase chances for errors. "When you have multiple counties involved, delays may happen," she conceded. "But when you have multiple counties involved, confusion is guaranteed." She said the legislation should make clear that courts are allowed to change jurisdiction of the adoption process, after a petition is filed, to another county.

And Kari Mascar, director of Lutheran Adoption Service, urged adoption of the bills to prevent further instances of one-sided hearings such as the Oakland proceeding when no one represented the foster parents' interests. "We need to assure that hearings regarding the adoption of a child are fair and that a judge can make a determination with full knowledge," she said.

While Mr. Hager dropped earlier plans to move the Michigan Children's Institute out of FIA, he said the legislation "sends a message" of independence to the MCI superintendent who is empowered to consent to adoption, marriage or emancipation of children who are state wards.

The superintendent is given, in HB 6009, the power to make those decisions without direction from the FIA or the FIA director and requires the attorney general to defend the superintendent's decisions in a court proceeding. The superintendent would also have sole authority, without review by the FIA, to provide consent for adoption of children who are wards of the state.

Mr. Hager said potential areas for amendment on the floor deal with some of the terminology in the bill - covering matters such as what must be proven for a court to overturn an adoption decision by the state - in order to improve the focus on serving the best interests of the child and how to deal with Wayne County's concerns about creating possible delays in adoptions with the requirement on petitions filed in counties where parental rights are terminated.

Detroit Population Still in Top 10, but Falling
Gongwer News Service, June 24, 2004

Six of Michigan's largest population centers rank in the top 200 in the nation, with Detroit No. 10; but according to a U.S. Census report released Thursday, people continue to leave the city and others.

With an estimated population of 911,402 in July 2003, Detroit by far still ranks as the state's largest city. But the city has seen the biggest decrease in population since 2000, not only in the state, but also in the nation, ranking 243 out of 245 cities with populations greater than 100,000. Flint was just behind the Motor City, with a 3.7 percent decrease in residents.

Sterling Heights, the state's 4th largest city and 179th in the nation, has an estimated population of 126,182. The city is home to the state's largest increase in population - 1.4 percent.

Detroit, Grand Rapids, Warren, Sterling Heights, Flint, and Lansing have the largest number of residents in the state, and all rank in the top 200 in the nation. Ann Arbor was the only Michigan city that did not crack the top 200, but with an estimated population of 114,498, it has seen the second highest increase in residents since 2000, according to the census.

Also according to the census, the villages of Eagle, located just northwest of Lansing, and Forestville, located on the coastline of the state's thumb, are tied for smallest population with 124 residents each.

What's Behind The ISD Amendment?
MIRS, June 24, 2004

Today, House Republicans passed an amendment to SB 0599 that requires the boards of the state's largest Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) to ask voters in Genesee, Kent, Macomb and Oakland next June whether their ISDs should be dissolved.

SB 0599, sponsored by Sen. Ray BASHAM (D-Taylor), is a relatively innocuous bill that allows school district employees to enroll their children in that district if the family doesn't live in the district. Then House Speaker Rick JOHNSON (R-LeRoy) got the aforementioned amendment adopted.

Democrats, particularly those who have been involved with the recent ISD issues in the Legislature, were not slow in sounding their alarms.

Rep. Andrew MEISNER (D-Ferndale), the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on ISD Review, claimed the amendment shows that the Republicans "really" want to get rid of ISDs.

"Tens of thousands of Michigan families with special needs children would suffer if Republicans succeed in their plans to eliminate ISDs," Meisner said. "At least conservative think tanks like the Mackinac Center have been open about their desire to get rid of ISDs."

However, the measure could only be enacted if the Senate passed it and Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM didn't veto it.

It appears that the real purpose behind Johnson's amendment was to pressure the ISDs to cooperate with House Education Committee Chair Brian PALMER (R-Romeo), ISD Review Subcommittee Chair Ruth JOHNSON (R-Holly), and Rep. Ken BRADSTREET (R-Gaylord) on the "ISD Accountability" package.

This ISD Accountability Package, (a.k.a. ISD Package II) emerged from Ruth Johnson's attempts to probe the Oakland ISD scandals, which launched her subcommittee to begin with. It includes an array of bills to provide for further disclosure by ISDs.

However, there's a feeling among supporters that ISDs are stonewalling on the bills, and basically trying to wait out the term-limited Ruth Johnson and Bradstreet, the primary advocates for reform.

The amendment adopted today could be a bargaining chip if there becomes a real possibility that Granholm could be forced to veto it. Such a veto could receive considerable negative news coverage within Oakland County.

The package includes:

- HB 5457, which requires the Department of Treasury to randomly audit ISDs.

- HB 5627, which requires that ISDs release salary, benefit, travel and other financial information to auditors.

- HB 5839, which specifies that special education and vocational education bond money can only be spent on special ed and vocational ed and cannot last longer than 25 years.

- HB 5850, which lays out penalties for the misuse of school district or intermediate school district funds.

- HB 5921, which would create a conflict of interest policy for intermediate school district officials and employees, and also prohibit members of constituent district boards of education from serving on an intermediate school board.

In other ISD reform news today, the Senate Education Committee moved four bills designed to make ISD board members subject to recall and allow local school boards to review ISD budget before the budgets go into effect. The bills moved to the Senate floor unanimously.

    

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