There are more teachers teaching fewer students. That's the picture that's coming into focus in Michigan's 51stHouse district, where House Education Committee Chair Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, is facing the prospect of a recall election on Nov. 8.
Michigan's major political battle this fall has been pitting the Michigan Education Association and sympathetic fellow unions against Republicans in the Michigan Legislature. At issue are GOP-passed education reforms and alleged spending cuts. The flash-point in the battle has seemingly been Rep. Scott's recall election.
With so much attention being paid to the recall and the alleged impact of GOP reforms, teacher and enrollment data has been monitored carefully at the five school districts within the 51st House district. Those school districts are: Fenton, Goodrich, Grand Blanc, Lake Fenton and Linden.
As previously reported by Capitol Confidential, Grand Blanc Community Schools has added nine new teachers this year. Including those numbers, there are a net seven more teachers in the 51st House district than there were last year.
The figures look like this:
- Goodrich: 111 teachers last year, 108 this year, a net three layoffs;
- Lake Fenton: 88 last year, 89 this year, a net gain of one teacher;
- There was no change in total teachers in Fenton, which has 200 teachers, or Linden, which has 148.
These statistics are from the school districts themselves. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy obtained the information from school districts statewide through Freedom of Information Act requests. Almost all of that data has now been collected.
Meanwhile, according to financial statements available through the Michigan Department of Education, overall enrollment in the five school districts in the 51st District is down 29 students compared to last year.
Readers should note that late Thursday, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion that could prevent the recall election of Rep. Scott from taking place. It ruled that the Ingham County Circuit Court erred on Sept. 12 when it ruled to allow the recall to move forward. The case has now been sent back to the Ingham County Circuit Court.
Earlier on Thursday, the Michigan Republican Party announced that Lt. Gov. Brian Calley would be in Scott's district to knock on doors and help with his campaign against the recall. According to well-placed sources, Rep. Scott's campaign and the efforts of groups supporting him are continuing, even though there is now a possibility that court action could stop the election.
On July 27, Rep. Scott asked the Genesee County Circuit Court to rule on the clarity of the recall petition language. The petition drive went forward even though the court hadn't ruled, but Rep. Scott's attorneys argued in the Ingham County Circuit Court that he'd been denied due process when the petition drive was allowed to continue before there had been a final court decision on the issue of petition clarity.
On Sept. 12, Ingham County Circuit Judge Clinton Canady said that although Rep. Scott's legal point might have technical validity, he wouldn't have likely won the case on its merits. On Thursday, the state Court of Appeals disagreed.
Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, chair of the House Appropriations Education Subcommittee, said the actual teacher numbers in the 51st district provide the latest example of how the MEA misrepresents reality.
“It's really frustrating,” Rep. Rogers said. “It seems that no matter what, they always say the sky is falling. But I hope people are beginning to catch on. We have a system where, if there's a possibility that teachers could be laid off, they have to be warned with what could be called pink slips. The schools and the MEA always publicize the pink slip part of the process. Later, when the lay-offs don't happen, there isn't much coverage.
“The misinformation that comes from these people is really amazing,” Rogers continued. “I've recently received emails accusing Republican lawmakers of trying to privatize teaching. I think these came from regular folks who got a MEA email and just believe it's true. But one guy took the time to check on the bill that was mentioned, which was SB 618. He pointed out that the bill only pertains to charter schools. If we held the MEA accountable for the accuracy of their output, the way we do students, they'd flunk.”
But would the fact that these school districts have more teachers now than they had a year ago be information Rep. Scott's side could use to its benefit?
“You would tend to think so,” said Inside Michigan Politics Editor Bill Ballenger. “Here you have the MEA saying that the cuts have been so severe that it's hurting education. Then, as it turns out, the reality is that there are actually more teachers . . . I would think that Scott could try to take advantage of that.”
Rep. Doug Geiss, D-Taylor, a member of the House Education Committee, declined to comment on the increase in teachers and decrease in students in the aforementioned school districts. But Rep. Geiss does maintain that Michigan's recall process needs to be fixed.
“I have legislation that would change our recall process to the way it is done in Wisconsin,” he said. “Under my bill, after a sufficient number of valid petitions have been handed in, someone would need to be chosen to run against the legislator who is being recalled. In other words, the voters would have to decide which candidate was better.”
Michigan's student count took place this week, but the results won't be available for up to 24 weeks. However, the 2011 enrollment numbers used by school districts to plan their budgets at the beginning of the school year are available from the Michigan Department of Education.
For House District 51 they are as follows:
Fenton: 3,484, down 36 from 3,520 in 2010;
Goodrich: 2,143, down 48 from 2,191 in 2010;
Grand Blanc: 8,633, up 61 from 8,572 in 2010;
Lake Fenton: 1,829, up 40 from 1,789 in 2010;
Linden: 2,990, down 46 from 3,036 in 2010.
The 2011 total for all five schools is 19,078 students, down 29 from the 19,107 total of 2010.
When offered the opportunity to comment, MEA spokesman Doug Pratt did not return a telephone call. Also, Gary Carnahan, spokesman for Citizens Against Government Overreach, the group that filed the Scott recall, did not return a telephone call asking for his comments.