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
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
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
“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
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
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
- 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
- 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
“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
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
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).