Panel Moves First ISD Bills
Gongwer News Service, June 24, 2004
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The opposition has frustrated House Speaker Rick Johnson (R-LeRoy)
and led to Thursday's action, said his spokesperson, Keith
"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
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
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
Michigan Adoption Bills Win House Committee
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
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